Ask The Pharmacist: Gluten’s impact on your mood, skin

Suzy Cohen
Gluten free food concepts word cloud illustration. Word collage concept.

There are billions of pills swallowed each year, with the sole intent to reduce stomach acid. I’m referring to the category of acid blockers and antacids.

Medications in this category play a huge role in gluten-related illness due to their well-documented interference with the digestion of your food. Undigested food proteins like gluten can leak into your bloodstream and cause problems all over your body.

I think these medications are causing a lot of gluten sensitivity (not celiac which is autoimmune). With acid blockers, how are you supposed to fully digest your meals without your stomach acid? You can’t. Soon I will tell you about three common symptoms that come from eating gluten-based bread, pasta, cookies, muffins, bagels, soy sauce and so forth.

When the protein gluten breaks into smaller proteins (gliadin for example), it leaves your digestive tract through microscopic holes and get into your bloodstream. Therein lies the problem. Your body makes antibodies to gliadin and attacks whatever tissue that gliadin has attached itself too. Your immune system is just doing its job, attacking the invader, but it’s your body that pays the price.

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For years we’ve heard anecdotally about people who test negative for celiac disease but whose symptoms dramatically improve when gluten (and preferably all grains) are eliminated. We are now starting to get some answers, because a separate condition called Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) has recently been officially identified. Patients with NCGS will absolutely test negative for the autoimmune condition of celiac disease, because they don’t have a classic allergy to wheat. But people with NCGS experience all the same unpleasant symptoms, and respond favorably to a gluten-free diet. NCGS is more common than celiac.

I’m sure you know that gluten sensitivity contributes to irritable bowel problems, obesity as well as rapid transit time (i.e. you probably have diarrhea and gas soon after eating) but there are other common symptoms you’ve probably not considered. So with that said, I’d recommend six months off gluten (and preferably all grains) if you have any of the following:

Brain fog: Perhaps you keep forgetting thoughts mid-sentence and word finding difficulties? Cognitive dysfunction is extremely common among gluten sensitive folks.

Skin problems: A painful rash called dermatitis herpetiformis (DH) is unique to celiac disease, but NCGS can also drive other common skin conditions, itchy unexplained rashes, rosacea and eczema.

Bad moods: Gluten can impact your neurotransmitters. Our brains are exquisitely sensitive to fluctuations in our environment and our body’s general health. The neurotransmitters serotonin and GABA are more prevalent in your gastrointestinal tract than in your brain.

If your gut lining is damaged due to extended use or misuse of potent acid blockers, or gluten, then your brain chemicals are imbalanced. This leads to depression and anxiety. If you think you have problems with gluten, the simplest, most inexpensive thing to do is reconsider your antacids, and stop eating gluten for six months and see how you feel.

Suzy Cohen is a registered pharmacist. The information presented here is not intended to treat, cure or diagnose any condition. Visit SuzyCohen.com.