Airborne Gluten

by | Aug 22, 2019

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Have you been on a gluten-free diet for an extended period of time?  Do you continue to have symptoms despite religiously sticking to the diet?  As my wife and I have spoken with other people who have celiac disease, I’ve found it curious that this seems to be a common thread.  My impression is that there are many people who don’t really see a complete resolution of their celiac disease symptoms, despite having been on the gluten-free diet for years.  My wife, Jill, falls into this category.  She has been gluten-free for over 15 years now.  Yet she still experiences gastrointestinal problems, chronic fatigue, headaches, and neurological issues.

Why is this so common?  I suppose it’s anybody’s guess.  It’s been documented that celiacs often wind up with additional autoimmune disorders besides celiac disease.  So I suppose some of it could be that.  But I wonder if you’ve ever stopped to consider if the air you’re breathing could be aggravating your celiac disease or gluten sensitivity…

Toxic Clouds

Can gluten become airborne?  Absolutely!  Gluten can (and likely does) get airborne any time you use wheat flour.  Anyone who has ever baked with flour knows how easy it is for that stuff to erupt into the air.  Have you ever turned a food mixer on too high with the bowl full of flour?  If so, you know what I’m talking about.  I can think of occasions where this has happened to my family.  The kids are making a batch of cookies, and they’ve got all the ingredients in the mixing bowl.  Someone then flips the switch on the mixer a little too hard, kicking it immediately from stopped to high-speed.  The result is a sudden shower of powder that is now spread from one end of the countertop to the other, and covering the guilty party from head to toe.  Amid the chaotic scene, however, is the not-as-obvious cloud that remains suspended in the air, floating listlessly about the kitchen—and maybe beyond.

And don’t think it’s just wheat flour that can result in this phenomenon.  Aside from actual flour, you have numerous baking mixes that contain flour; pancake mixes, cookie mixes, cake mixes, and so on.  What about cereals—cold or hot?  I’m guessing that you probably wind up with some degree of airborne gluten any time you pour a bowl of gluten-containing cereal.  In fact, I would further guess that any time you pour any gluten-containing dry food product from one container to another, you probably wind up with some airborne gluten.

Stop Mixing it Up

This may be a real problem if you, or members of your family, are on a gluten-free diet, but others in your household are not.  Every time someone prepares non-gluten-free food, it’s possible that some of that gluten may wind up floating around the kitchen.  Depending on how the air flows through your home, it may even spread throughout much of the house before it settles.  And speaking of settling, who knows where it will wind up?  On Clothing?  Dishes?  Food preparation surfaces?  Seriously, if you’ve got a mixed gluten-full/gluten-free household, you should consider the implications.

Don’t Feed the Cows!

It probably goes without saying that airborne gluten could affect a person with a gluten or wheat allergy.  But there is ample speculation, and some evidence, that it may also affect those with celiac disease.  One report, published in the New England Journal of Medicine (Click here for an alternative source not requiring a login), contains details of two cases involving farmers.  Both farmers had Refractory celiac disease.  Celiac disease is termed “Refractory” if symptoms (specifically villous atrophy) continue despite adherence to a completely gluten-free diet.  Doctors found that both farmers were feeding their cattle a mixture of grains that included wheat and barley.  Now the farmers weren’t eating the cows’ food; rather, they were inhaling it.  Dust from the mixture became airborne when they fed it to the cattle.  In both cases, after the farmers began wearing face masks while feeding the cattle, the villous atrophy began to heal.

The New Second-Hand Smoke

Needless to say, I believe the potential implications of airborne gluten warrant extreme caution.  I believe that those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity should strive to avoid all contact with gluten, whether it’s ingested, inhaled, or touched.   Not to sound melodramatic, but I suspect celiacs and gluten-sensitives could rightly consider airborne gluten “the new second-hand smoke”.

If the topic of airborne gluten has aroused your curiosity, you might want to check out some of the airborne gluten tests that I’ve conducted in the Other Tests section.  I think you’ll find it interesting.


Photo by Jordane Mathieu on Unsplash


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