The Link Between Gluten and Psoriasis


Credit: Getty Images / Jodi Jacobson

Dermatitis herpetiformis isn't the only skin condition closely linked with celiac disease—several studies show that the itchy and painful skin disease psoriasis also shares a strong link with celiac disease and with the gluten protein, found in the grains wheat, barley, and rye.

One study blamed the gluten in beer for psoriasis in some women, and other research also reports a link between celiac disease and psoriasis.

Specifically, the research indicates that psoriasis patients have high levels of gluten antibodies circulating in their bodies. These antibodies indicate that the psoriasis patients are reacting to the gluten in their diets, even though they haven't been diagnosed with celiac disease.

This doesn't necessarily mean gluten caused the psoriasis—research has yet to confirm that link. It could mean that psoriasis patients simply have higher rates of celiac disease, but that gluten doesn't play a role in their psoriasis.

It also could mean that some people with psoriasis suffer from non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and that condition causes the high levels of gluten antibodies.

There's still much that medicine does not know about any potential links between the skin condition psoriasis and consumption of gluten-containing foods. More research will need to be done to determine what, exactly, what connections exist between celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and psoriasis.

Links Between Celiac Disease and Psoriasis

Both celiac disease and psoriasis are autoimmune diseases, meaning that in each case, your immune system mistakenly attacks part of your own body. When you have celiac disease, your immune system attacks your intestinal villi. When you have psoriasis, your immune system attacks your skin.

In psoriasis, thick, scaly red plaques develop on your skin as the skin's outer layer develops too rapidly. While psoriasis can appear at any age and sometimes even can be detected on babies in the womb, most people get the disease either early in their adult years.

About one-third of patients with psoriasis also suffer from joint stiffness, and up to 10% have psoriatic arthritis, a type of inflammatory arthritis. Up to 4.3% of psoriasis patients also have a diagnosis of celiac disease.

As of this point, no medical group has developed recommendations for celiac disease antibody testing in psoriasis patients.

Celiac Disease Antibodies Found in Psoriasis Patients

At least two studies report finding gluten antibodies in patients with psoriasis, potentially indicating unrecognized celiac disease in those people. However, the research shows that the links between the two conditions aren't definitive.

For example, one report found significantly higher levels of celiac disease antibodies in patients with psoriasis than in matched control patients and raised the possibility that some of these patients actually have latent celiac disease, which means you have positive blood tests but a normal intestinal biopsy.

Another study took blood samples from patients with particularly bad psoriatic lesions, along with samples from healthy people with no family history of psoriasis or celiac disease. The researchers found that the patients with psoriasis had significantly higher concentrations of two types of antibodies used to diagnose celiac disease.

However, none of the patients in that study had IgA anti-endomysial antibodies, which physicians consider the most sensitive and specific to a celiac disease diagnosis. Still, the researchers concluded that "our results seem to imply an association between psoriasis and asymptomatic celiac disease/gluten intolerance."

Can the Gluten-Free Diet Help Psoriasis Sufferers?

If you've been diagnosed with both psoriasis and celiac disease, you'll need to follow the gluten-free diet to treat your celiac disease. As a bonus, it might help your psoriasis, although there's no firm evidence that it will. But should psoriasis patients who haven't been diagnosed with celiac disease consider the gluten-free diet, too?

One study suggests the answer may be yes in people who test positive for antibodies to gluten, even if they don't have celiac disease. That study looked at 33 people with psoriasis who had high antibodies to gluten and compared them to six people with psoriasis who didn't have high gluten antibodies. The study found that 73% of those with high gluten antibodies saw their psoriasis improve when they went gluten-free, while none of those without high gluten antibodies saw a change.

Several other small studies and case reports also suggest that some people with psoriasis may see their skin improve (sometimes dramatically) on a gluten-free diet, even if they haven't been diagnosed with celiac disease. In fact, the researchers from one study noted that "a gluten-free diet may be beneficial in psoriasis patients with gluten sensitivity [confirmed by high antibodies to gluten] but not necessarily biopsy-confirmed celiac disease."

However, not all studies have shown that the gluten-free diet benefits people with psoriasis.

A Word from Verywell

If you're interested in giving the gluten-free diet a try, it's wise to discuss this with your doctor first. You may want to ask for blood tests to see if you have antibodies to gluten circulating in your body, since that might help determine whether you might benefit from the diet.

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Article Sources
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