Is There Any Value of a Gluten Free Diet in Seborrheic Dermatitis

The gluten-free trend started to pick up speed as early as 2004 and has been on an astonishing growth trajectory ever since. Just consider that since 2004 to 2011 it is estimated that the market for gluten-free products grew by an annual rate of 28% and has surpassed both the low carbohydrate and fat-free diet trends [1].

Examining worldwide search queries going back to 2004 does confirm this trend for the period. However, moving forward it appears that the gluten-free trend had passed is prime-time mid-2014 and had begun to lose popularity in more recent years.

Gluten Free Diet Search Trends - 2004 to 2019
Google search data suggests the popularity of gluten free diets started to really take off in 2009, peaking mid-2014, and then lossing steam in more recent years.

Despite this loss in traction, a 2015 study of 30,000 adults from 60 countries around the glove revealed that a whopping 21% of these people considered the gluten-free marketing a “very important” factor driving their food purchasing [2].

Such market demand has fueled a corresponding trend for savvy companies to bring new food gluten product options to consumers, literally swelling both the availability and marketing efforts for gluten-free products. And it’s possible that it is these companies and their interest in seeing the trend succeed that then further spurred the publics’ interest, potentially blurring the line between authentic gluten sensitivity and the less formal self-made diagnosis.

In hindsight, it’s quite amazing to see such a growth trajectory for an industry that emerged from such little actual data and research into the health implications of such a diet for the general population [3].

And how is it that prior to 2004, and really for the past 10,000 years, the human race has been relying on wheat to feed the majority of the world’s population [4]? Can gluten have really been causing health issues for almost 25% of the world population all this time?

The most popular health issues that have been attributed to gluten cover a wide range of topics. This includes brain fog, skin rashes, headaches, joint pain, gas, systemic inflammation, depression, psoriasis, and IBS. Even though many of these can actually be related to gluten [5], others are so broad in scope that it becomes essentially impossible to actually come to a conclusion.

While true gluten sensitivity does exist and the need for gluten-free products does exist, some researches have commented that gluten itself could provide potential health benefits for many of us who are not sensitive [6, 7] and shifting to gluten-free alternatives could even increase the level of toxic metals in our diets [8]. Because of this, completely eliminating gluten from our diets should be carefully considered and we shouldn’t rush to any conclusions.

Bringing critical thinking into the picture
If you really believe that gluten could be driving your skin issues, confirming this through medical testing would remove much of the guesswork.

Does a Connection Between Seborrheic Dermatitis and Gluten Exist

Seborrheic dermatitis can also often be found under this large umbrella of gluten intolerance symptoms. Typically, people make bold claims that gluten is the cause of your seborrheic dermatitis and the accompanying sadness/depression. However, even simple logic may suggest your depression and sadness can simply be a result of having a visible skin condition which negatively affects your social interactions.

However, does the theory that gluten could cause seborrheic dermatitis actually have any data and research to back it up?

The short answer to this question is no. As of today, there is no data that has correlated gluten sensitivity to seborrheic dermatitis symptoms.

While there have been a few case reports of psoriasis remission following the introduction of a strict gluten-free diet, such cases are few in number and have only been documented in cases where antibodies to gliadin (the specific component of gluten that drives the majority of allergic reactions) where noted [9, 10].

Taking the data from psoriasis into consideration, it is technically possible that for a small percentage of individuals, an underlying gluten sensitivity that puts the immune system out of balance could trigger skin symptoms. However, speculating that this is the case of the large majority is ill-advised.

Potential Benefits of Going Gluten Free May Not Be Directly Related to the Gluten Itself

One large aspect of going gluten-free that is not often considered, is that such a diet change usually results in a general shift away from some of the more common sources of simple carbohydrates and added fats. This includes things such as pastries, crackers, and pizza.

As a result, this general shift in dietary choices could actually be the source of the improvements that many people report from going gluten-free. In turn, this helps drive awareness of the trend, and more people rush to test it out.

Alternatively, choosing foods devoid of gluten usually also results in a significant reduction in the amount of FODMAPs (fermentable oligo- and disaccharides) in one’s diet. And some have proposed that this component of the gluten-free diet could be the one that is responsible for the many benefits reported by the general population [11, 12]

Considering the placebo effect
The placebo effect could very well be at play as well. If enough people tell you that gluten is the source of your issues and you choose to believe this and take action, your conviction alone could lead to the improvements you begin to experience.

Section Summary

This section introduced the gluten-free diet trend and analyzed the more recently proposed connection between gluten and seborrheic dermatitis.

Key points of the section include:

  1. Gluten-free diets have started to really gain traction as early as 2004 and created a large market for companies to introduce new products
  2. Gluten soon became a common topic for discussion and was blamed for a variety of chronic health issues, despite insufficient evidence
  3. Completely avoiding gluten and seeking gluten-free choices may actually be ill-advised for the general population
  4. While online reports are plentiful, there is no medical data that would suggest a relationship between gluten and seborrheic dermatitis exists
  5. If you believe you are sensitive to gluten, taking the time to obtain an accurate diagnosis is likely to provide the most long term value

References

  1. Anna Sapone, Julio C Bai, Carolina Ciacci, Jernej Dolinsek, Peter H R Green, Marios Hadjivassiliou, Katri Kaukinen, Kamran Rostami, David S Sanders, Michael Schumann, Reiner Ullrich, Danilo Villalta, Umberto Volta, Carlo Catassi, Alessio Fasano "Spectrum of gluten-related disorders: consensus on new nomenclature and classification." BMC medicine 10 (2012): 13. PubMed
  2. Norelle R Reilly "The Gluten-Free Diet: Recognizing Fact, Fiction, and Fad." The Journal of pediatrics 175 (2018): 206-10. PubMed
  3. Glenn A Gaesser, Siddhartha S Angadi "Gluten-free diet: imprudent dietary advice for the general population?" Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 112.9 (2012): 1330-1333. PubMed
  4. Donald D Kasarda "Can an increase in celiac disease be attributed to an increase in the gluten content of wheat as a consequence of wheat breeding?" Journal of agricultural and food chemistry 61.6 (2013): 1155-9. PubMed
  5. Michelle Pietzak "Celiac disease, wheat allergy, and gluten sensitivity: when gluten free is not a fad." JPEN. Journal of parenteral and enteral nutrition 36.1 Suppl (2012): 68S-75S. PubMed
  6. D J Jenkins, C W Kendall, E Vidgen, L S Augustin, M van Erk, A Geelen, T Parker, D Faulkner, V Vuksan, R G Josse, L A Leiter, P W Connelly "High-protein diets in hyperlipidemia: effect of wheat gluten on serum lipids, uric acid, and renal function." The American journal of clinical nutrition 74.1 (2001): 57-63. PubMed
  7. Paula Tighe, Garry Duthie, Nicholas Vaughan, Julie Brittenden, William G Simpson, Susan Duthie, William Mutch, Klaus Wahle, Graham Horgan, Frank Thies "Effect of increased consumption of whole-grain foods on blood pressure and other cardiovascular risk markers in healthy middle-aged persons: a randomized controlled trial." The American journal of clinical nutrition 92.4 (2010): 733-40. PubMed
  8. Catherine M Bulka, Matthew A Davis, Margaret R Karagas, Habibul Ahsan, Maria Argos "The Unintended Consequences of a Gluten-free Diet." Epidemiology (Cambridge, Mass.) 28.3 (2018): e24-e25. PubMed
  9. Gerd Michaëlsson, Stina Ahs, Ingrid Hammarström, Inger Pihl Lundin, Eva Hagforsen "Gluten-free diet in psoriasis patients with antibodies to gliadin results in decreased expression of tissue transglutaminase and fewer Ki67+ cells in the dermis." Acta dermato-venereologica 83.6 (2004): 425-9. PubMed
  10. Giovanni Addolorato, Antonio Parente, Giosue de Lorenzi, Maria Eugenia D'angelo Di Paola, Ludovico Abenavoli, Lorenzo Leggio, Esmeralda Capristo, Clara De Simone, Maurizio Rotoli, Gian Ludovico Rapaccini, Giovanni Gasbarrini "Rapid regression of psoriasis in a coeliac patient after gluten-free diet. A case report and review of the literature." Digestion 68.1 (2004): 9-12. PubMed
  11. Knut E A Lundin, Armin Alaedini "Non-celiac gluten sensitivity." Gastrointestinal endoscopy clinics of North America 22.4 (2013): 723-34. PubMed
  12. Jessica R Biesiekierski, Simone L Peters, Evan D Newnham, Ourania Rosella, Jane G Muir, Peter R Gibson "No effects of gluten in patients with self-reported non-celiac gluten sensitivity after dietary reduction of fermentable, poorly absorbed, short-chain carbohydrates." Gastroenterology 145.2 (2013): 320-8.e1-3. PubMed
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About Michael Anders

After being affected by seborrheic dermatitis, I have made it my goal to gather and organize all the information that has helped me in my journey.

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