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Can Gluten Lower My Immune System?

author image Frankie Smith
Frankie Smith brings over 12 years of experience in health care to her positions as a mental health clinician, policy analyst and director in Aboriginal health. Her writing experience has primarily been in the area of strategic planning and policy development. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Winnipeg.
Can Gluten Lower My Immune System?
Man coughing at work looking unwell. Photo Credit Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Getty Images

Your immune system is a complex network responsible for fighting off harmful bacterial, viruses and chemicals. It also operates as an alarm system of sorts for developing cancers, reports the Cleveland Clinic. Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition that results in an inappropriate stimulation of the immune system when gluten is consumed. If you have gluten intolerance you may experience many symptoms of celiac disease without the severe intestinal damage. Gluten does not prompt this response in individuals who do not have celiac disease or gluten intolerance.


Gluten is a protein found in certain grains, including barley, rye and wheat. Gluten is found in crossbreeds of these grains, as well as in any packaged or processed foods containing these grains. Gluten is challenging to avoid as wheat, barley, rye or derivatives of these grains are common additives in food processing. These grains might also be present in medications, lip balms and other skin products.

Gluten Intolerance

With celiac disease and gluten intolerance, your small intestine is primarily affected; ingesting gluten prompts an immune response. Your immune system is inappropriately activated, which impairs your body's ability to absorb nutrients. You might experience symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea, gas, skin lesions and constipation. Over time, if a gluten-free diet is not followed, you may develop malnourishment and vitamin deficiencies.

Gluten and Immune System

Celiac disease activates your immune system rather than suppressing it; however, it might lower your immune system due to malnutrition. According to the Cleveland Clinic, even marginal deficiencies in nutrients might contribute to a lowered immune system. A daily multivitamin might be useful in preventing malnutrition, however, you may require blood testing to identify nutrient deficiencies such as iron. An autoimmune response places stress on the immune system, which might leave you more susceptible to illness.

Gluten-Free Dangers

Gluten-free diets are unnecessary and potentially harmful for those who do not have celiac disease. Eating gluten-free foods unnecessarily might lead to weight gain if you are substituting gluten-free replacement products, as these products are often higher in sugar and fats than their counterparts. Gluten-free diets often lack sufficient nutrients, reports the September 2006 issue of "Practical Gastroenterology." These nutrients may include calcium, fiber, iron, thiamin, folatem, riboflavin and niacin. Removing gluten unnecessarily might also contribute to vitamin deficiencies that lower your immune system.

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