Did you know your skin is the largest organ in your body? We usually think of organs as internal, but not all organs are. Your skin is also your fastest growing organ. An average adult has about 8 pounds of skin.
In fact, your skin provides an elimination or detoxification function for your body. Your intestines are the primary channel for external elimination (taking waste out of the body) and your liver is the primary channel for internal detoxification.
Those of us with celiac disease may have damaged or compromised intestinal function (depending on how diligent you are with your diet and how long you’ve been eating gluten free). And the liver is the backup to the intestines.
Some symptoms that can indicate your liver may be struggling inlude lethargy, bloating, weight gain, headaches, skin issues, thyroid issues, food intolerances, allergies, and cholesterol concerns. Any of those sound familiar??
The backup to the liver are the kideneys, and the backup to your kidneys is your skin! Your skin can aid in elimination and detoxification by sweating to get rid of water soluble toxins. And it can eliminate fat soluble toxins via your oil ducts.
Typically your liver would process these toxins and your kidneys would flush them. But if your system is overloaded, sluggish, or compromised, some of this burden may be passed to your skin.
Below are some skin conditions that are often associated with celiac disease.
1. DERMATITIS HERPETIFORMIS
Dermatitis herpetiformis goes by many names. You may hear it called a gluten rash, celiac rash, DH, or Duhring’s disease.
It appears as blisters or itchy bumps, and is often near around elbows, knees, hairline, and buttocks. It usually appears on both sides of the body. It is often misdiagnosed as eczema.
Approximately 15-25% of celiacs get dermatitis herpetiformis. And of all the people with DH, about 20% have celiac disease. Interestingly, people with DH who are not celiac, will typically see an improvement in their skin with adherence to a gluten free diet.
In fact, DH treatment is a gluten free diet, though it can take quite a while to see healing. DH is more common in men than women, and it’s usually seen later in adulthood, though it is occasionally seen in children.
Acne can be tricky to solve, as it can be caused by a plethora of factors. It’s present in many systemic autoimmune diseases and gastrointestinal disorders.
And of course any medication, environmental exposure, stressor, etc. that impacts your hormorne levels can contribute to an acne breakout.
I couldn’t find any published medical research linking acne to celiac disease, but it’s common to hear acne listed as a celiac struggle.
If you’re eating gluten free and still battle acne, consider trying a grain free diet for a period. It may also be a good idea to see if you have any of the common celiac sensitivites such as corn, soy, dairy, etc.
3. KERATOSIS PILARIS (CHICKEN SKIN)
Throughout my life, I always had tiny little bumps on the back of my upper arms. I always wondered what it was and why I had it but other people didn’t.
When I started eating a gluten free diet, my keratosis pilaris went away. There is no research linking it with celiac disease, but anecdotally there does seem to be an association.
Eczema and its symptoms vary from person to person. It’s often mildly or moderately itchy, though the itch can be extreme. Your skin can appear dry, inflamed, sensitive, dark, red, scaly, oozing, rough, swollen, or leathery. And you may only have one of these symptoms or many of them.
There is cursory research showing that skin issues such as eczema are often associated with intestinal diseases and can sometimes be relieved by a gluten free diet.
5. DRY SKIN
It’s quite commom for people with gluten sensitivity and celiac disease to suffer from dry skin. It usually clears up when they adopt a gluten free diet. Again, there’s no published research connecting the two, but it’s a very common anecdote.
There is supposition that the initial nutrient deficiency hinders skin health, and the subsequent ability to absorb nutrition (after healing the gut) allows the skin to heal.
6. CHRONIC URTICARIA (HIVES)
Chronic urticaria is when you get hives daily for more than 6 weeks, and reappear with frequency. A strong association has been found between chronic urticaria and autoimmune diseases (including celiac disease).
If chronic urticaria is a skin manifestation of celiac disease (it could be a symptom of many other autoimmune conditions), research has shown a gluten free diet will likely help.
Rosacea is redness of the face, though it can also color your ears, neck, or chest. It may be accompanied by visible broken blood vessels, small bumps that look like acne, and eye issues including swelling, discomfort, and redness.
Recent studies suggest links between rosacea and gastrointestinal disorders and bewteen rosacea and autoimmune diseases.
8. ALOPECIA AREATA (HAIR LOSS)
Alopecia areata is when the hair falls out in round patches and the condition often develops suddenly. Some people simply recover from it without ever being treated–their hair just grows back. It’s one of the most common forms of hair loss in children.
The cause of alopecia areata remains unknown, but it is presumed to be due to an autoimmune reaction since it’s common in people with other autoimmune disorders. Some doctors suggest that children with alopecia areata be tested for celiac disease.
Psoriasis is usually found on the knees, elbows, lower back, and scalp, though it can appear anywhere on the body. There are different types of psoriasis, but the most common appears as bumpy red patches with white scales.
People with psoriasis are documented to have a higher prevalence of autoimmune diseases (including celiac disease). And a number of research studies suggest that psoriasis and celiac disease share common genetic and inflammatory pathways.
This study showed an improvement of psoriasis in patients who tested positive for IgA antibodies, after being placed on a gluten free diet.
It makes sense that if your body is experiencing a chronic health issue, it may manifest in some way on your skin. So if you’re experiencing a chronic skin condition, it may be a good idea to examine your overall health.
You may want to consider seeing a doctor, some kind of a cleanse, some kind of assistance to your intestines, liver, and kidneys, or perhaps a temporary dietary change.
There are topical applications that can help. I rely heavily on tallow balm, and it has done wonders for my skin. But the underlying issue for skin conditions can be internal health, so seemingly unrelated (or unknown) health matters may need to be addressed to truly heal the skin.
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