Can Inhaling Gluten Trigger Symptoms in Sensitive Individuals?
An astonishing number of people following a strict gluten-free diet and lifestyle remain symptomatic.
If they are very compliant to a gluten elimination, but still experience negative symptoms associated with gluten, could something else trigger the symptoms?
Maybe; however, is it possible that the strict gluten-free diet and lifestyle are not enough? Lab tests, such as the Vibrant Wheat Zoomer, can provide you with insight.
On a daily basis, Vibrant’s clinical team consults with gluten-free patients who have completed Vibrant’s Wheat Zoomer test.
The beauty of Vibrant’s Wheat Zoomer is not only in identification of wheat and gluten-related disorders, but also to assess one’s level of exposure to wheat and gluten.
Surprisingly, many strictly gluten-free individuals find their lab results come back indicating high levels of antibodies to wheat and/or gluten.
Why is this?
Let’s Start With Going on a Gluten-free Diet
When one initially finds out that they need to avoid gluten, the first step is to remove the obvious sources.
The average person probably knows that items such as breads and pastas will need to be avoided, but what next? There are numerous educational resources that can provide that education, including but not limited to clinicians, blogs, and books.
Reading product labels that advertise their products as gluten-free is also an obvious means to buy gluten-free products. Note: Foods labeled gluten-free contain less than 20 ppm (parts per million), and, therefore, are not necessarily zero percent gluten.
Going gluten-free can be an overwhelming process. Generally speaking, once the major sources of gluten are removed from the diet, it is imperative to read labels on all packaged foods and then move on to your toiletries and cosmetics.
Those avoiding gluten need to use gluten-free lip balm, toothpaste, chewing gum, medications, supplements, and sunscreen, to name a few items that do not generally cross the mind when starting this journey.
Is that everything?
You should feel better and at this point, you should find that your health has improved, maybe symptoms you didn’t even realize you were experiencing are no longer present, and your overall feeling of well-being has improved.
Sounds great, right? But, what if you feel better, but you just feel like something is still off? You can run a test to assess your gluten-free compliance efforts.
Case Study 1: 13-year-old girl on strict gluten-free diet
The clinicians on Vibrant’s clinical team have come across numerous patients who receive their lab results and claim they must be incorrect.
Why? Because their results indicate exposure has occurred with non-gluten proteins of wheat and/or gluten proteins when they claim to be strict gluten-free dieters.
During a consultation with Vibrant’s clinical team, a lengthy list of possible unrealized exposures is reviewed:
- “Do you lick the glue on envelopes or stamps?”
- “Do you eat any meals outside of your home?”
- “Do you know how to properly read labels?”
- “Do you know that even gluten-free packaged foods can contain minimal ppm of gluten?”
- “Do you take medications or supplements that contain gluten?” And so on…
Recently the clinical team has come across patients who seem so educated and so compliant that even our clinicians were scratching their heads, until reaching the point in the conversation about inhalation.
Do you know that all forms of exposure to wheat and gluten need to be considered?
Below are the results of a 13-year-old female that developed orthorexia, an eating disorder developed in pursuit of a healthy diet, because she was fearful and anxious of not feeling well whenever she ate.
The child is strict; the mother stated that she knows that the child does not cheat due to her developed fear of becoming sick from eating.
Are you curious what the source of non-gluten wheat proteins and gluten proteins for this strict teenager is? The answer is wheat farms: this family lives in a farming community that farms wheat and thus, they are surrounded by wheat, and its residual wheat dust, all around their home.
Case Study #2: 73-year-old female on long term gluten-free diet
The next interesting case study is a 73-year-old female who has been gluten-free for decades, does not consume processed foods, and even makes most of her toiletries and beauty products.
She also showed elevated antibodies that are indicative of exposure to non-gluten proteins of wheat, as well as gluten-containing proteins on her Vibrant Wheat Zoomer lab results.
In discussion, after sharing the previous story about the young, compliant, now orthorexic girl to provide this patient with the variable possibilities of exposure, it was discovered that this patient also lives within 10 miles of wheat farms and it is possible that she is at risk for wheat inhalation.
Clinical team members have also shared a similar story about a clinical consultation with a patient that is extremely careful not to eat or handle gluten; yet, the patient obtained lab results indicating that she was getting exposure to and reacting to gluten.
The patient is a baker who teaches baking classes that include wheat products. She wears gloves and does not consume wheat. In this third scenario, the patient is inhaling the wheat flour that is dispersed in the air during the process of preparing the baked goods.
Why does inhaling wheat trigger symptoms?
When you inhale wheat, which includes both non-gluten and gluten-containing proteins in wheat, those particles become trapped in your saliva and nasal passages, entering into mucous membranes and further traveling into your intestinal tract.
Numerous studies show that inhaling gluten can trigger symptoms of celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, wheat allergies, and asthma in sensitive individuals. [1,2]
How to Avoid Inhaling Gluten
First, you need to know where gluten inhalation may occur and then you can take precautions to avoid inhaling the particles:
- Never use gluten-containing flour in your kitchen or visit bakeries, pizzerias, or homes where gluten-containing flour is used. If you must be around a bakery that uses gluten-containing flour, such as the grocery store, or a pizzeria, exercise caution. Some bakers say that it can take 36-48 hours for flour to settle from the air; that means 2 days!
- Avoid construction sites, especially during drywall work and avoid ready-made spackling, as most contain wheat. This is an often-overlooked source of hidden gluten exposure.
- Consider using a face mask in certain situations. You can find a full respiratory mask for about $40 in home improvement stores. If you have any respiratory conditions, use a respiratory mask with caution.
- Switch to gluten-free pet food. Even if you have someone feed your pet or move the bowl to a place you do not go, it would be much easier to switch your pet to a gluten-free food.
If you have persistent symptoms despite going gluten-free, and feel you have been very strict with your gluten-elimination, consider a Vibrant Wheat Zoomer test to assess your antibodies to all the possible proteins in wheat and gluten. With 100% accuracy, this test can tell you definitively if you have been successfully avoiding gluten and/or wheat.
- Khan et al (2018). Immunological study of different fraction of wheat proteins. Pak J Pharm Sci. 2018 Jul;31(4):1437-1440. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30033431
- Khodadadi et al (2011). Exposure to respirable flour dust and gliadin in wheat flour mills. J Occup Health. 2011;53(6):417-22. Epub 2011 Oct 13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21996928