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  • Kristen Campbell
    Kristen Campbell

    How Celiacs can Deal with Accidental Gluten Ingestion

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Celiac.com 01/03/2009 - Recently on a gluten-free forum, I found a post asking for advice on what to do after a woman had accidentally consumed a large amount of gluten.  After unknowingly eating from her daughter’s takeout box, the woman had realized her mistake and was simply devastated to have broken her diet and subjected herself to the old, too-familiar symptoms that were on their way.

    It was interesting reading the various responses, which resulted in a debate over whether or not to induce vomiting, drink pineapple juice, take enzymes or engage in a certain illegal activity.  In all the debate, the woman eventually disappeared off the forum, which probably meant that she took some action or another, though I never heard the final result.

    This whole subject inspired some research on my part.  I first consulted my extensive gluten-free library, which led me to one solitary, repetitive answer: do not eat gluten.  In a world where doctors and authors alike are so concerned that their advice on the subject will lead people with gluten sensitivities to forgo a gluten-free diet in favor of a “band aid” of sorts, that finding a documented recommendation is near impossible.

    These experts are right to reinforce the importance of maintaining a gluten free lifestyle, and the fact that there is no “cure” for gluten intolerance and celiac disease (other than complete avoidance of gluten from wheat, barley and rye).  But mistakes do happen, and from time to time people do get "glutened,” and when they do, which action is best?

    No matter what the size is of the offending dose of gluten, all experts agree, inducing vomiting is too dangerous and disruptive to the body to be considered.  But there is one option that at least two noted experts in field of celiac research agree upon: enzymes.

    When I contacted the renowned Dr. Kenneth Fine of EnteroLab, and asked him if perhaps a dose of enzymes that are designed to break down gluten might help, he had this to say: “The good news is that everyone will survive and recover from the gluten exposure.  The enzymes you mention might help, but not completely, unless they consumed at the same time (as the gluten) for best results.”  And like all good doctors, he did go on to warn, “Avoidance is still the best policy.”

    Shari Lieberman, PhD, CNS, FACN and author of The Gluten Connection very humbly admits that “gluten slips happen.”  She also devotes a couple of pages in her book to research conducted using digestive enzymes to help manage those occasions when gluten does make its way into your diet, citing a research example in which “The study demonstrates that enzyme therapy can substantially minimize symptoms in people with celiac disease who are exposed to gluten.” 

    The enzyme used in this study does not seem to be currently available, but other gluten enzymes are at your local health food store.  I contacted one company in regard to their product, which according to them helps to reduce inflammation caused by the introduction of gluten in an individual with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.  According to them their enzymes will not prevent all damage, but may reduce some inflammation and help the body to better digest the protein.

    Ultimately, gluten sensitive individuals should recover from one accidental “gluten slip” here and there, and keeping some digestive enzymes handy to help cope with such an accident is not a bad idea.  But do keep in mind that repeated offenses, even the most minute, will damage your body and prevent it from healing.  Enzymes help treat the symptoms, but only complete avoidance of gluten can treat the disease.


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    After reading the article and your comments, I am really concerned that it is taking me too long to recover from accidentally eating gluten! I accidentally ate some gluten in an order of mashed potatoes at a restaurant two weeks ago and I am still trying to recover! Any insight on this? I am going to try JR Harper's suggestion of charcoal tablets. Thanks for the article and all your comments!

    I took an enzyme that really helped me through being glutened. I was contaminated at a restaurant which resulted in severe cramping and BMs every hour for 18 hours. The enzyme stopped it in its tracks and rapidly brought my BMs to near normal. Belly still bloated thereafter but the enzyme definitely helped. The brand was Align. Not an endorsement, you could try a no name store brand although Aligns states it has a patented enzyme unavailable to other manufacturers. Note: Only try for accidental ingestion not as a supplement for continued gluten intentional ingestion.

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    Drink LOTS of water! As soon as I feel I've been glistened, I drink 4-5 large glasses of water right away. My symptoms disappear! The water must dilute the gluten and wash out the system or something. Regardless, it's safe, free, healthy, and always available. Try it, people!

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    Sorry to rate so low, but no specifics about enzymes or other ways to treat accidental ingestion of gluten. We know not to eat gluten! However, the suggestions in the comments were excellent, including identification of brands of enzymes. I'm not sure how I ingested gluten today (I'm very careful), but know I have my symptoms. Thanks everyone!

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    This article was helpful, as I am celiac for just 1 year and am still learning. I have been very careful not to have gluten in my food, but slipped up yesterday and ate 2 tortillas last night that weren't gluten-free. I was ill most of last night and am still ill tonight. I had no idea what to expect; the cramps, bloatedness and just feeling ill and exhausted. I am going to try the enzymes and hope that helps. Thank you to all who posted advice; it was helpful.

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    My daughter was diagnosed 5 months ago and we are very strict about what she eats. She is totally on board too since she gets so sick with accidental ingestion. Last night was the second time she got glutened by plain chicken breasts bought at the grocery store. Nothing on the label said anything about broth, but she has been a mess since an hour after dinner last night. It is so frustrating. She also had raw carrots and watermelon, so it had to be the chicken. Also, Utz potato chips claim to be gluten free on the bag, but they make her very sick so they are cross-contaminated despite the company's cleaning between batches of gluten chips. It's frustrating when "experts" say to just avoid gluten instead of giving remedies for accidental ingestion. My chiropractor gave us the enzyme Gluten Flam; wish us luck!

    I have the same problem with URL chips! The problem at hand is still, how does one get the swelling of the small intestine down! I took some generic antibiotics and they contained wheat. Now I have the flu, sinus infection and intestinal swelling. It has been 3 days and I fear it will be 3 more. I take enzymedica enzymes and they help. Liquid diet and cold and hot compresses. The saddest thing is that the pharmacy cannot find out what the inert ingredients in a generic are, so we get stuck.

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    What works for me, quick relief, is a red delicious apple. Pain and swelling subsides within the first half hour. I prefer the really huge dark ones, cold. So, keep yourself a few apples handy; and thank God

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    Although I have not done this, I think it is healthier to throw up if you have accidentally ingested gluten than to suffer from an overwrought immune system and inflammation that can cause all sorts of disease.

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    Although this would obviously require a physician to intervene, as someone with celiac disease and widespread abdominal nerve damage from a congenitally deformed celiac artery, I routinely use a combination of Zofran, Phenergan, and Ativan to treat nausea symptoms. This got me wondering on a topic beyond the scope of nutritionists, enzyme remedies, and the topics covered by some of the chiropractors (how does back care have anything to do with celiac disease??): Are there any research articles on pharmacological methods used to treat these symptoms? The antidiarrheals will not stop damage from the immune reaction, but could theses, antihistamines (skin itching from dermatitis) and antiemetics have any control over symptoms to palliate them?

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    Reading the reviews make a lot of sense. I have been gluten-free for about 15 months since I had positive tests for celiac disease. My wife was away, so I was home alone with some cider and thought the bag of crisps were gluten-free, but they contained barley malt. When I read the allergy advice it said 'contains milk only,' so I thought it was safe but clearly not! It's been a week on and my body feels like a washing machine, my intestines and all my muscles ache so much the pain seems to move around.

     

    I will try some of the tips that have been suggested above.

     

    Thanks for the tips!

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    The readers' comments are more helpful than the article! I was diagnosed with ADHD two years ago and after my Mom was diagnosed with gluten intolerance, I decided to give a go at giving it up to see if it reduced any of my ADHD symptoms. Symptoms have been a bit better. Still distracted, but not lethargic as I can be. I was only off gluten for a couple weeks and wanted to stay off it until after finals (I'm in grad school). To celebrate finishing finals I decided to go out with friends and indulge in some delicious gluten in the form of beer and pizza. I was so uncomfortable the rest of the night. Bloated, some stomach pains. I took some Peptol just in case. Today I am still feeling gassy and just off of center. I will try the ginger tea (and maybe some tequila if I am feeling sassy) tonight and see if it helps. I did not expect my body to respond this way after only being off it for a few weeks! I have been eating it my entire life, after all.

    Same thing happened to me... I got off it for 2 weeks and ate something and my stomach and headache pain was awful! Ive not been to the doctor but the evidence for gluten intolerance is there! I ate it my whole life and for the last 5-6 years had itchy skin and over produced mucous. That stopped too after cutting out gluten...if I slip up now the symptoms are all a ton worse! I try to drink green tea with honey cinnamon and apple cider vinegar and it helps a bit... I'm on day 2 of intestinal cramps and burpy after eating some french fries that looked clear but were battered very lightly...I hate it!

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    I accidentally ate 2 pieces of what I thought was gluten free pizza at 6:00 pm and it is now 2 am. I was in so much stomach pain I thought I had to go to the hospital. The pain was extremely severe. I felt like I had swallowed a huge lump of poison. I could barely speak or walk. The vomiting started a little more than an hour afterwards. Cold sweats, shaking and severe diarrhea. I vomited for over 2 hours. Worst ever in my life. The culprit pizza was something I found in the Shop Rite gluten-free freezer section. It was a brand called 4U. My husband gets take out, regular pizza, for himself and my daughter every Friday so I wanted to have something gluten-free so I could join the pizza party. I was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2003. My gastro doctor at the time told me I was the second worst case he had ever seen in 20 years in practice. Why grocery stores stock whole wheat items right next to gluten-free items tells me they need some training. I will be speaking to the store manager in the very near future. When I was barely able to move, I was praying for an antidote. I was searching up what to do in case of accidental wheat/gluten ingestion when I saw this and felt compelled to add my story. I always like to read the ingredients when I buy prepared gluten-free foods, but somehow I really dropped the ball on this one. Moral of my story is; if you think you are picking up a gluten free product always, always look at the ingredients. Learned my lesson the very hard way and not looking forward to the next day or two feeling like absolute crap.

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  • About Me

    Kristen Campbell is a gluten-free, natural beauty expert. Diagnosed with severe gluten intolerance, she tests and tries, then recommends only the very best and purest gluten-free cosmetic products on her website www.NaturallyDahling.com. She is also the co-founder of www.GlutenFreeFox.com the world's first gluten-free search engine.

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