If you’ve ever been plagued by an accidental gluten exposure, you understand how frustrating it can be. You do everything you can to check the labels of your food, dine out carefully, and avoid cross contamination, yet you still get glutened. If you’ve experienced this, know that it happens to everyone who needs to avoid gluten at some point. This is how I’ve personally learned and how my clients learn as well.
Having witnessed the negative consequences of gluten firsthand in the clients I work with, I can confidently say that gluten should not be a part of most diets if you are struggling with GI distress and or an autoimmune condition. That being said, I want to be clear: gluten is not inherently bad. I’m talking specifically to those who suffer from a gluten allergy or sensitivity, Non-Celiac gluten sensitivity, or Celiac disease. If you’ve experienced unwanted symptoms after eating gluten, then I’m talking to you. When gluten acts as a toxin in the body, the underlying cause has to be addressed, not ignored. If not successfully treated, gluten has the opportunity to wreak havoc in our bodies–and even long term.
Gluten is a protein (from Gliadin) found in grains, like wheat, barley, and rye. Similar to it’s name, gluten acts as a glue by holding foods together. These important elastic properties make gluten essential for most traditional breads and baked goods.
When a negative reaction to gluten occurs, Celiac disease, non-Celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), or a gluten sensitivity may be to blame. It’s important to understand the difference between the two and use functional testing to confirm a possible diagnosis.
Celiac disease occurs when gluten triggers the body to attack itself causing damage to the small intestine. Consequently, nutrients are poorly absorbed and may lead to nutritional deficiencies. Celiac sufferers must eliminate all gluten and gluten cross contamination from their diet immediately and indefinitely to avoid further health complications.
If you haven’t been diagnosed with Celiac disease, gluten is not necessarily safe. In America, Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) is extremely common and as a result, many experience gluten-related symptoms after ingestion. Although not a legitimate allergy, NCGS should be taken seriously because the symptoms and side effects of NCGS are similar to those of Celiac, if not even more severe in some cases. NCGS is what I see in about 70% of the clients I work with who have an autoimmune condition, such as Hashimotos.
Due to the similarity in symptoms, it is important to get tested by a functional practitioner to determine if Celiac or NCGS is playing a role in your health. Nowadays you can blood test for Celiac disease, genetics, intestinal permeability, gluten intolerance and sensitivity, and small intestine inflammation.
Whether you are allergic (IgE) or sensitive to gluten (IgA/IgG), avoiding gluten in your diet is a non-negotiable. While eliminating gluten completely may be challenging for some, it’s important to focus on the delicious and nutritious naturally gluten free whole foods that you can enjoy. Fill your diet with high quality meats, healthy fats, gluten-free grains and starches, and plenty of organic fruits and vegetables. Together, these foods can help support, heal, and fuel your body as it requires in order to thrive.
Despite making every effort to avoid gluten and being extremely careful, accidental gluten exposure is still possible. Being exposed to gluten due to accidental intake or cross contamination is more likely to occur in public places, like restaurants, schools, or even friend’s houses.
Symptoms of an accidental (or intention gluten exposure) can last for days upon weeks, to even up to a month depending on the severity of your condition and how much you’ve been exposed to. How long you’ve been off gluten also plays a role in the symptoms you might experience after gluten exposure.
If you think you’ve been “glutened,” the following action steps should be taken immediately to reduce the negative consequences and help your body recover faster. When started early, you can recover in less time and get back to feeling your best again.
Activated charcoal works by binding to the glutinous toxins and removing them from the body. To be most effective, activated charcoal should be consumed immediately after gluten exposure.
We all know water is essential to a healthy body, including it’s detoxification processes. While water helps the body detox, broth can soothe and repair damage in the gut lining. Together, water and bone broth are a dynamic duo. In fact, drinking plenty of water daily and consuming bone broth regularly can be beneficial for anyone- not just those who have been “glutened.” Aim for more than half your body weight in ounces (or around 2L for most healthy adults). If you experience vomiting or diarrhea, I would also suggest adding pure electrolytes to your water. Bone broth naturally contains electrolytes and minerals, which is why it is a top choice after exposure.
In addition to hydration, I also recommend upping your herbal tea intake after getting glutened. Not only will this improve your overall hydration, but will also provide gut healing benefits from herbs and functional foods such as decreasing inflammation in the gut. The irritation in your digestive tract from the gluten exposure you’ve experienced often causes spasms that can lead to pain and diarrhea. Anti-spasmodic herbs will assist in decreasing these symptoms.
Opt for homemade teas or high quality packaged tea bags whenever possible. My personal favorites after getting glutened include adding fresh peppermint, turmeric, fennel, and or ginger to warm water and sipping throughout the day. These specific herbal blends for gut health are free of the common contaminants found in tea and proven to protect the mucous lining of the gastrointestinal tract from further damage.
It takes extra work for your body to heal. Listen to the cues your body is giving you and schedule rest. This should really be #1 on the list. When you are exposed to a toxin, like gluten, your body works vigorously to get rid of the pathogen. Prioritizing rest and sleep is one of the best ways to let your body naturally heal as quickly as possible. This might look like going to bed earlier, sleeping in longer, and taking a nap or two throughout the day. If possible, take a day off from work so you can really maximize your body’s ability to recover.
While you are resting, consider adding heat to your abdomen. Heat is extremely soothing when you’re experiencing pain anywhere in your body and this is definitely the case for your digestive system too. A great way to apply heat to your abdomen after getting glutened is using a heating pad, blanket, or a hot water bottle. Apply the hot water bottle to your abdomen for 10-20 minutes as needed to soothe and relax your pain and body.
Grab your heating pad or hot water bottle, a cozy blanket, a cup of your favorite tummy tea or bone broth, and relax in your bed while reading your favorite book or watching a movie. Does it get any better than that!? I encourage you to use this time of rest to your advantage and don’t try to fight it!
Digestive rest is one of the most effective methods that will help you feel your best again is less time. I recommend a quick 7-day reset and reboot that will not only help you calm the digestive system from the heavy burden of gluten, but it will also speed up the healing time with Phase 1 and Phase 2 liver detoxification to help you recover quickly so that you can feel your best again in less than 1 week. This is why I created my Gut Reset & Reboot program to help anyone who might need help in this area. It is one of my favorite programs and is the same system I use for myself and clients during a set back or just to optimize and sustain gut health at the change of every season. You can learn more about the Gut Reset & Reboot here, and get on the waitlist for the next time we run it LIVE!
Epsom salt is made up of magnesium and sulfate. Magnesium helps the body detoxify and sulfate strengthens the digestive tract. Both of these natural substances aid the body in recovery after gluten exposure. Epsom salt baths are an excellent way to relax before bed and prepare the body for optimal sleep. I like this detox sea soak here by Primally Pure.
Glutaclear by Metagenics combines several potent ingredients to increase glutathione in the body. Glutathione works by helping the liver detox toxins and supports antioxidant processes. When exposed to gluten, glutathione strengthens the body’s ability to detox and heal.
Digestive enzymes break down food in the digestive tract. Without adequate enzymes available, food is poorly digested. Supplementing with enzymes, during or after a gluten exposure, helps the body gain the upper hand. Enzymes work to break down the glutinous proteins before they enter the gut.
Glutatgenics, by Metagenics, is a powder supplement composed of 3 powerful ingredients: glutamine, DGL, and aloe gel. All of these compounds are known to soothe and heal the digestive tract, which is essential during an accidental gluten exposure. This effective powder works to strengthen the gut lining and boost immune function.
In case of accidental exposure, I recommend keeping the following supplements on hand at all times: activated charcoal, digestive enzymes, GlutaClear, and/or Glutagenics. Work with your functional practitioner for specific intake and if this protocol is right for you. After all, if you are allergic or sensitive to gluten, being “glutened” is an experience we all want to avoid.
Below is a list to help you avoid gluten cross contamination and how to create a healthy and sustainable gluten free lifestyle.
Gluten exposure can be incredibly frustrating and often come with feelings of guilt and blame. Try to be kind to yourself and give yourself grace as you release those feelings. You have to be so diligent about your food intake every single day and sometimes mistakes happen that are out of your control. Know that it’s OKAY.
Do the best you can and remember that this is a lifelong journey, and one that you will learn and improve on through experience. Even if that experience is by getting glutened and learning how to navigate a setback. I’ve been there plenty of times, and I am sure you will too!
I’d love to hear your thoughts and experience! And if you aren’t sure if you have a gluten intolerance, sensitivity, or even Celiac, I would highly recommend seeking out professional support to test and not guess so that you can currently make the right interventions to improve your life and health.
I focus on autoimmune conditions like Celiac disease and digestive health in my practice because I recognize that a lot of people are suffering with digestive issues and I know there are natural solutions that can help once we get to the root cause. Please don’t suffer without the proper support any longer. Visit our contact page to get in touch or check out our personalized functional medicine programs here to learn more about how my team and I can help you get your health and life back.
Do you follow a gluten-free diet? If so, what is your go-to protocol after being “glutened?”
Disclaimer: Please consult with your doctor and/or nutrition professional before starting any of the supplements listed above. These statements are not approved by the FDA. Personalized supplementation protocols are the best way to ensure regimens are the right fit for you. The results presented here are individual and are not promised to be the exact results you’ll get.
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-Nikki Yelton, RD
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