Will Going Gluten Free Help Inflammatory Bowel Disease? | What's With Wheat

The term inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) describes a condition in which the intestines are inflamed, meaning there are high numbers of inflammatory cells present in the lining of the digestive tract. It has often been thought of as an autoimmune disease, but research suggests that the chronic inflammation may not be due to the immune system attacking the body itself.

Instead, it is a result of the immune system attacking a harmless virus, bacteria or food in the gut, causing inflammation that leads to bowel injury.

The following short video explains the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatments for IBD.

Gluten, wheat and IBD

When you have IBD, discovering which foods and drink affect or aggravate your symptoms can be a bit of a minefield, which might leave you feeling frustrated and stressed as a result.

Some people with IBD have reported that gluten causes negative effects on their symptoms and below we take a look at two of the main reasons why this is.

1.  Gluten causes inflammation

The proteins in wheat are gut irritants; imagine the protein as a ‘splinter’ that’s digging into the lining of your gut, which causes an inflammatory response. When there is severe inflammation, the disease is considered active and the person’s symptoms are increased.

The most common symptoms are:

  • abdominal cramps and pain
  • weight loss
  • iron deficiency anaemia
  • loss of appetite
  • severe diarrhoea (often with blood).

Since IBD is an inflammatory condition, when someone eats gluten it basically causes more inflammation and damage throughout the body, causing a vicious cycle.

This inflammation can result in intestinal permeability, which is often called ‘leaky gut’.

2.  Gluten causes intestinal permeability (aka leaky gut)

Gliadin is the part of the gluten protein which triggers the release of zonulin, another protein that signals the tight junctions of the intestinal wall to open up. The opening up of the intestinal wall results in intestinal permeability (leaky gut). Intestinal permeability is a big problem as it’s a key factor in the development of autoimmune diseases. Read more about what ‘leaky gut’ is here.

Many people with IBD have trialled cutting gluten out of their diets. A 2014 study found “65.6% of all patients who attempted a gluten-free diet reported an improvement of their IBD symptoms and 38.3% reported fewer or less severe IBD flare ups as well as much less fatigue”.

Please note that we’re not suggesting that gluten lies at the root of all the health problems we face today. However, it is a problem and many people have benefitted from eliminating gluten and wheat from their diet, especially those with digestive disorders.

I recommend to my clients who suffer from autoimmune disease or digestive issues such as IBD to eliminate gluten and wheat completely for a minimum of 3 months. If you slip up or accidentally consume gluten, even if it’s just a tiny amount, it could cause an immune response which can trigger the initial symptoms you were experiencing. So that’s why we recommend for people who suffer from autoimmune disease or digestive issues to maintain a strict gluten free diet.

Going gluten free can seem overwhelming at first, but you will quickly learn what healthy substitutes you can make for your favourite foods and how to cook gluten free. Visit our recipes and blogs for some inspiration.

Here are just a few resources you may find helpful to get you started on the right track:

  1. Gluten-free snacks for the busy person
  2. Why you need to eliminate gluten completely if you have an autoimmune disease
  3. Are your gluten-free foods really gluten free?
  4. How to stock a naturally gluten-free pantry


Jordan Pie
Nutritionist & GAPS Practitioner