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The Effect of Wheat on Inflammatory Bowel Diseases- Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

Wheat is one of the most allergenic and irritating foods for the immune system

If you are dealing with Inflammatory bowel disease, you may have heard the phrase: "There is no connection between what you eat and your disease." But, this is far from the truth!

Most of the population suffers from food sensitivities, however, it is not always easy to obtain in-depth laboratory tests, and even if you do - they are not always sensitive enough to discover hidden sensitivities and allergies.

So if you are challenged with an Inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, pancolitis, or diverticulitis, it is important to be aware of how different foods affect you.

One of the most allergenic and irritating foods for the immune system is wheat. This is due to the presence of gluten - the wheat protein.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat as well as barley and rye. It is also found in many foods such as bread, pasta, pastries, cereals, soups, sauces, beer, soy sauce, oatmeal, vinegar and processed foods.

Gluten may stimulate the immune system to create antibodies and cause an allergic reaction. One of the challenges is, that it is not always possible to diagnose a sensitivity or intolerance to gluten in laboratory tests, and in many cases it is striped.

The effect of wheat consumption on our health

The effect of wheat consumption on health problems and Inflammatory bowel diseases Crohn's and colitis, in particular, is a very discussed topic today. Dr. Williams Davis, author of the fascinating book "Wheat Belly" describes wheat as "the perfect chronic poison" and talks about how modern wheat is completely different genetically from the wheat our ancestors used to eat, and that it is the product of man-made hybridization designed to produce a crop larger that is characterized by resistance to diseases and weather conditions. Unfortunately, this genetic manipulation caused a change in the structure and levels of gluten and added other new proteins that not every intestine is able to break down and absorb.

The health problems that may be caused by wheat consumption:

1. Celiac - gluten intolerance

An autoimmune intestinal disease in which the immune system causes damage to the cells in the small intestine as a result of exposure to gluten protein. The symptoms of celiac include bloating, diarrhea, nausea, constipation, fatigue, sudden weight loss, hair loss, anemia, and malabsorption.

In recent years, more and more evidence has been accumulating about the genetic link between celiac disease and Inflammatory bowel diseases - Crohn's, colitis, and diverticulitis.

Recent genetic studies show that celiac disease shares the same genes as well as Inflammatory bowel disease. Studies have found that people with celiac disease have a higher risk of developing Crohn's disease, and vice versa. This fact perhaps suggests that Crohn's disease can be a variant of celiac disease with additional triggers.

2. Wheat allergy

An immune reaction that creates antibodies against proteins in wheat, rather than gluten. These antibodies spread to various tissues and cause symptoms such as rash, nausea, upset stomach, diarrhea, phlegm and runny nose, sneezing, headaches, and asthma.

3. Gluten sensitivity

Gluten sensitivity is a less severe form of gluten intolerance and includes symptoms similar to celiac disease, but it is not autoimmune and it does not cause irreversible damage to the intestines. The symptoms are most likely to disappear when you stop consuming gluten. Bear in mind, gluten is not easily cleared from the body and it could take up to a month for the symptoms to completely subside.

Inflammatory bowel diseases and the link to celiac disease

Many people can live for years with undiagnosed celiac disease. Often when there is an autoimmune disease, another autoimmune disease can break out, hence, celiac disease can encourage the outbreak of Inflammatory bowel disease- Ulcerative disease or Crohn's disease. An example of this is a study from 2004 that found that 25% of Crohn's patients also suffer from celiac disease. A 2011 study showed that those suffering from Crohn's disease are more likely to suffer from celiac disease due to a genetic influence (1)

Gluten and leaky gut syndrome

Our gut has a defense mechanism. It consists of tight junctions whose purpose is to serve as a protective barrier that separates the intestine cavity from the rest of our body.

Leaky gut is a term used to describe a condition where this protective barrier doesn't work properly and the lining of the intestinal wall becomes permeable, allowing substances such as toxins, undigested food particles, and bacteria to leak through into the bloodstream.

Wheat contains a protein called gliadin. The gliadin encourages an increase in the levels of another protein found in the intestine - zonulin. High levels of zonulin encourage intestinal permeability and lead to the development of a leaky gut, It was found that in Crohn's patients, the release of zonulin is higher and longer than in healthy people.

This means, that gluten seems to cause a leaky gut in most cases, but in Crohn's disease, more intensely.

Symptoms of leaky gut include bloating, gas, cramping, food sensitivities, and pain. In addition, the condition may also manifest itself outside of the digestive system, such as skin infections, eczema, arthritis, chronic fatigue, and many other chronic diseases. (2) (3)

Damaged intestines cannot break down sugars

Wheat and other complex grains are made up of chains of monosaccharide molecules called polysaccharides. Crohn's disease and Ulcerative colitis cause a problem in the absorption and breakdown of these sugars. As a result, undigested sugars remain in the intestine and serve as a substrate for the proliferation of unfriendly bacteria. Overgrowth of these bacteria causes the formation of hyperacidity in the intestine, gas, swelling, and worsening of the symptoms of inflammation (4).

Weaning off gluten

From my experience, whenever gluten is removed from the diet, the symptoms inevitably improve, and this manifests itself in a decrease in diarrhea, pain, and abdominal swelling.

In order to remove gluten from the diet, it is important to completely reduce its consumption for at least 30 days, preferably under the supervision of a qualified Naturopath or a nutritionist.

If there is a sensitivity to gluten, even a small amount can cause symptoms to recur.

Following the growing awareness of gluten's impacts on public health, many "gluten-free" foods can be found on store shelves, the problem is, that most of them are processed and contain high amounts of preservatives. So if you want to find good quality gluten-free products, I encourage you to read the label and choose those substitutes that are healthy and as close to their natural source as possible.

Avoiding gluten is critical whilst treating the inflammation in Crohn's, Ulcerative colitis, and diverticulitis. The gluten detoxing process may cause withdrawal symptoms, such as restlessness, stomachaches, headaches, dizziness and more may occur. These symptoms are temporary and will pass as soon as the body is completely cleansed of gluten.

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