Have you gone on a gluten-free diet, thinking it might help you feel better—and potentially clear up your skin?
Did it work? Or are you still suffering from digestive discomfort, acne, eczema, and other inflammatory skin conditions?
Recent research has given us some more information on certain types of foods and how they may not only affect our health, but our skin. Turns out that while some people may truly be sensitive to gluten, others may actually be reacting to something entirely different, something that’s found in wheat and in other foods—something called “FODMAPs.”
Could this be your issue? If so, adjusting your diet could help clear up your digestive issues and your skin.
You may know you’re sensitive to gluten found in your food, but it’s possible that your moisturizer and other skin products contain gluten too. If you want to avoid putting gluten on your skin, check out these gluten free beauty products here.
What are FODMAPs?
Ready for this?
FODMAPs: Fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols.
You can think of them as fermentable carbohydrates. They are carbs that aren’t completely absorbed in the intestine, so they can sit in there and actually ferment.
For some people, that isn’t a problem. But others may suffer digestive symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating, and cramping. In fact, people who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) often find relief by restricting FODMAPs in their diet.
How Do FODMAPs Affect Skin?
We don’t have any studies yet specifically testing FODMAPs and skin, but other research has suggested a connection. The King’s College London, for example, notes that a low FODMAP diet is effective for about 70 percent of people with IBS who try it, adding that there is evidence that it not only clears up digestive symptoms, but headaches, skin, and joint problems as well.
We already know that celiac disease—an autoimmune disorder in which gluten actually damages the small intestine—can lead to skin problems. A 2002 study reported that about 10 percent of adults with celiac also suffer from “dermatitis herpetiformis,” an extremely itchy chronic rash also called “celiac disease of the skin.” A gluten-free diet helps clear up this rash.
People with celiac are also more likely than people without it to suffer from eczema, psoriasis, acne, chronic dry skin, and hives. The Natural Foundation for Celiac Awareness reports that both psoriasis and eczema are more common in those with celiac, stating, “According to research, individuals with celiac disease are three times as likely to suffer from eczema, which affects close to 30 million Americans.”
A sensitivity to FODMAPs is similar to a sensitivity to gluten—both can cause stomach and intestinal upset, and are believed to affect the condition of the skin. So if you’re suffering from symptoms, how can you be sure what’s causing them?
Gluten or FODMAPs?
Many people who believe they’re sensitive to gluten may actually be sensitive to FODMAPs, according to a 2014 study. Australian researchers gave participants three different diets at different times:
- Low-FODMAP diet
- A diet with high gluten
- A diet with low gluten
- Placebo diet with whey protein
None of the participants had celiac disease, but all had digestive symptoms that had improved on a gluten-free diet.
Results of the study showed that all diets except the low-FODMAP diet—even the placebo diet—caused participants to experience symptoms, which led to the conclusion that gluten was not the culprit.
Meanwhile, when the participants were on the low-FODMAP diet, almost all reported their symptoms improved.
So why would these people feel better on a gluten-free diet? Because many of the foods that contain gluten also contain FODMAPs—but not all.
So if you’ve gone gluten-free and you feel great and your skin looks great, you’re probably on the right track. If you notice that you’re still suffering symptoms, however—including acne, rosacea, and eczema—it may be time to look more closely at the FODMAPs in your diet.
Are You Sensitive to FODMAPs?
The nice thing about this research is that you can put it to work for you in your own home. If you’re not feeling one-hundred percent better on a gluten-free diet—or if you’re still suffering from acne, eczema, rosacea, or psoriasis break-outs—you can try eliminating FODMAPs for a couple weeks and see what happens.
If you feel and look better, you may have found the key to your good health and appearance. That doesn’t mean you have to go without these foods forever—just that you may want to eat fewer of them. You can always add some back in slowly to see how your body responds.
If nothing changes on your FODMAPs-free diet, than you can probably conclude that you’re not sensitive to them.
Foods High in FODMAPS
- High fructose corn syrup
- Sweeteners like honey, agave, sorbitol, xylitol, fructose, and molasses
- Grains like wheat, rye, barley, semolina, cous cous, and farro
- High-fructose fruits like apples, apricots, cherries, pears, mangoes, watermelons, dates, plums, and peaches
- Dairy foods that contain high lactose, including milk, ice-cream, soft cheese (like cottage cheese and ricotta), and sour cream
- Dairy substitutes, like almond milk and soy milk
- Nuts like cashews and pistachios
- Legumes like baked beans, chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, soybeans, lima beans, and black-eyed peas
- Vegetables like artichokes, onions, broccoli, avocadoes, beets, asparagus, mushrooms, onions, peas, leeks, cauliflower, scallions, and sugar snap peas
Sometimes it can feel overwhelming to think about cutting out all the foods on this list. If so, flip it around and choose more foods that are lower in these tummy-challenging compounds.
Foods Low in FODMAPS
- Fruits like bananas, grapes, kiwi, cranberries, lemons, mandarin oranges, blueberries, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, oranges, pineapples, raspberries, and strawberries
- Sweeteners like brown sugar, maple syrup, regular sugar, and powdered sugar
- Dairy alternatives like coconut milk, rice milk, and lactose-free products; also hard cheeses and butter, and low-lactose dairy products like cream cheese, half and half, sherbet, and yogurt
- Vegetables like bell peppers, bok choy, carrots, eggplant, common cabbage, endive, fennel, green beans, kale, lettuce, spinach, potatoes, tomatoes, and zucchinis
- Grains like bulgur wheat, quinoa, and oats
- Nuts like almonds, walnuts, peanuts, pecans, pine nuts, and macadamia nuts
- Lean meats like beef, chicken, fish, lamb, pork, turkey, and shellfish
Have you tried a low-FODMAP diet? Did it improve the condition of your skin?
“Frequently asked questions on the low FODMAP diet,” King’s College London, http://www.kcl.ac.uk/lsm/research/divisions/dns/projects/fodmaps/faq.aspx.
David A. Nelsen, “Gluten-Sensitive Enteropathy (Celiac Disease): More Common Than You Think,” Am Fam Physician. December 15, 2002; 66(12):2259-2266, http://www.aafp.org/afp/2002/1215/p2259.html.
“Celiac & Skin: Part 2,” National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, http://www.celiaccentral.org/skin/Celiac-Skin-Part-2/545/.
Steven Ross Pomeroy, “Gluten Intolerance May Not Exist,” Forbes, May 15, 2014, http://www.forbes.com/sites/rosspomeroy/2014/05/15/non-celiac-gluten-sensitivity-may-not-exist/.
Biesiekierski JR, et al., “No effects of gluten in patients with self-reported non-celiac gluten sensitivity after dietary reduction of fermentable, poorly absorbed, short-chain carbohydrates,” Gastroenterlogy, August 2013; 145(2):320-8, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23648697.