If you are following a gluten-free diet and mistakenly consume gluten, the harmful effects of gluten can appear within a few hours and last for a few days or even up to a few weeks or months, long after gluten has been cleared of your intestines. Whether you cheated on your gluten-free diet, made an unintentional mistake or suffered from a gluten cross-contamination, your degree of hydration, overall health status and the frequency of your bowel movements can all play roles in how fast gluten goes through your intestines.
Gluten is a family of protein found in grains and used by plants for protein storage. Not all gluten has the same potential to cause problems. For example, wheat contains gliadin, barley has hordein, rye has secalin, oats have avenin, corn has zein and rice has oryzenin. If you are gluten-intolerant, wheat, barley, rye and oats are more likely to be problematic because of the specific sequence of amino acids they contain, while the gluten found in corn and rice is usually better tolerated. The speed at which gluten travels in your intestines is the same as any other foods you consume.
Gastrointestinal Transit Time
Your transit time corresponds to the amount of time your body needs to move foods you eat from your mouth to the toilet. Although you may have a bowel movement after eating breakfast, your stools are not made just of what you just ate, but could include what is left of the meal you had yesterday or two days ago. Transit time varies greatly between individuals, but usually averages 40 to 50 hours, or roughly two days. This means that if you consumed a food that contained gluten, it will stay in your intestines for at least that period of time. Some people have a very slow transit time and it may take more than 72 hours, or three days, for gluten to go through their intestines.
If you have the immune form of gluten intolerance, or celiac disease, your body reacts to gluten by secreting antibodies. If you are exposed to gluten, the gluten antibodies produced by your immune system stay in your body, causing damage long after the last molecule of gluten you ate is eliminated from your intestines. According to Dr. Peter Osborne from the Gluten Free Society, these antibodies have a half-life of up to three to four months.
Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance
Because the negative effects of gluten can last for months after consuming gluten, if you have celiac disease, sticking very closely to your gluten-free diet is very important to maintain and optimize your health. Consult a registered dietitian who specializes in gastrointestinal health for tips and advice for successfully following a 100 percent gluten-free diet. More studies are needed to look at the amount of time required to eliminate gluten and recover from its negative impact if you are affected by the non-immune form of gluten intolerance.