Gluten Free? What To Do if You “Get Glutened”


It happens. You’re super gluten sensitive and have been diligent about staying gluten free for months now. But within an hour of dinner on Thanksgiving, at that birthday party, or at that restaurant with friends you start to feel sleepy. Your joints start to ache. You almost feel like you’re coming down with the flu. You feel rumblings – or even pain – in your belly if you also have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). And it dawns on you — you just “got glutened.”

This just happened to a patient of mine. She’d been struggling with severe IBS for years. After taking gluten, and dairy, to which she also is sensitive, out of her diet, she had a near miraculous turn-around in her symptoms. In just a few short weeks no more of the  diarrhea that dictated her personal and social life. The severe abdominal pain was completely gone. Her previously bloated belly became flat again. And on top of it, she hadn’t had a single bout of the acid reflux that also had been bothering her for years. Along with all of these improvements, her anxiety, which had been a 10 on her personal “Richter scale” has become a manageable 4.

Then it happened. Dinner with friends at a restaurant. Within an hour, she was once again experiencing some of those old symptoms. “Uh oh. Where’s the bathroom?,” she thought. Her anxiety shot through the roof. Then she started feeling “drugged”  — just exhausted beyond belief. And her joints started aching. She excused herself, went home and slept for nearly 12 hours. Over the next few days her symptoms gradually subsided. “I’d been glutened,” she told me at her appointment. Fortunately,  she is again largely symptom free.

If you’re gluten free, then you know how hard it is to be 100% sure of the foods you’re eating out. And if you’re super gluten sensitive, even a little exposure can be a big trigger. Patients often tell me they’ve gotten glutened. So here’s how I tell them to be prepared!

What To Do If You Get Glutened

While there’s no hard evidence for how to deal with what I call “gluten intoxication,” here’s what I recommend to my patients to help prevent — and quickly recover from a gluten exposure that re-triggers gluten-related symptoms:

  1. Always carry a few capsules of betaine HCL and digestive enzymes with you. An empty Altoids or Newman’s mints tin works wonders for stashing a few supplements in pretty much any handbag or backpack. If you are eating out, take 2 of each at the start of your meal for some extra “gluten protection insurance.” Between these supplements there’s a better chance of breaking down some of the offending proteins that my inadvertently find their way into your food.
  2. Also carry a few quercetin capsules with you. Quercetin is a bioflavonoid that gives onion skins their yellow color and is what is in apples that keeps the doctor away. It is a natural antihistamine – but it doesn’t make you sleepy at all. It is an excellent quick response to the inflammation and histamine reaction that can make you feel tired, drugged, and anxious after a gluten exposure. The dose is 250 mg up to 3 times daily. An alternate option is a combination of Quercetin and Freeze Dried Stinging Nettles – several companies make combined preparations. Nettles is a common herb that is safe enough that it can even be eaten as a steamed green vegetable – and like quercetin, is a non-sedating antihistamine.  Take as directed on the product you purchase, usually 2-3 capsules, 2-3 times/day. Of note, both are safe while breastfeeding, but quercetin is not for use during pregnancy.
  3. Take a probiotic as soon as you can after the exposure and 1-2 times daily for a few consecutive days after.
  4. Have Digestive Bitters on hand at home or in your bag (they usually come as a liquid, but you can easily keep a 1 oz. dropper-bottle in your bag). Herb Pharm, Gaia Herbs, and Urban Moonshine all make excellent bitters products. The dose is 1-2 dropperfuls in water with or just after your meal, and then repeat 1-3 times daily. Not all bitters products are safe during pregnancy so check with your midwife or doc before taking.
  5. Take 600 mg of NAC (n-acetylcysteine) 2-3 times/day for extra detox support for a few days after your exposure. It is also a natural anti-inflammatory supplement.
  6. Eat light and well for the rest of that day and the next – focus on vegetable broth, steamed vegetables, and fresh vegetable juice to ease the detoxification burden on your body.

Go back to your gluten free lifestyle, of course, and then check in with your integrative or functional doc about what to do next if you still feel crummy. Or see this article for steps on healing your gut if symptoms are lingering or you feel you’ve taken a few steps backward in your symptoms. If symptoms are significant, new, or persistent, also consult with your primary doc to make sure it’s not something more than the gluten exposure that’s causing the problem.

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Julie

Would this help with other food sensitivities and accidental exposure?

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AngelaG.

Thank you so much for the wonderful information! I wish you could be my doc but I live in the south so geography makes that impossible. All the more important for me to get your newsletter to help me be my best self! I recently stopped letting an abusive childhood control my life and have taken responsibility for my own happiness. I'm heading to 50 so it's about time. Your awesome love your beautiful spirit! Angela

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    Natalie

    Your article speaks to why Glutenizer Digestive-Ade was created. i understand it will be on the market mid January. Tank you for sharing

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Catherine

Dr jill- these symptoms you describe are exactly wht happens to me when I eat msg, even just a small 'hidden' amount (often disguised as another name) As I have discovered this and eliminated the offending foods from my diet, it seems that I have become even more sensitive to it. We ate out the other day and my fish was heavily flavored, at the time I even thought 'oh boy, we'll see if I feel this in the morning' and it was worse than ever- swelling and severe joint pain in my left arm and finger joints- and took longer to go away. Do you think that the supplement suggestions you give for getting glutened would also help me when I've consumed msg? (Mine doesn't seem to be related to gluten- I eat homemade tortillas and crepes without any troubles) Mahalo! Thank you!

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Ann

Thanks for the helpful info. Your blog is wonderful. I would love to know what measures might apply when one gets "dairied." Thanks!

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M

Do you have recommended doseages for children? Any I should avoid giving my three year old?

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    aviva

    All are ok even for a 3 yo; I'd go by percentage weight for dosage, assuming the adult dosing if for a 150 lb adult. So if your child is say, 30 lbs, this would be 1/5 the adult dose. Best, Aviva

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Jennifer Baran

Wonderful info! I wish I had this information prior to having surgery for GERD, yet still pretty bad IBS. Going GF has seemed to help to take the edge off of a lot of these issues. Additionally articles like this make me feel less neurotic when people question my judgment on the subject and suspect it is just in my head or I'm jumping on some fad. Now the real importance of my question is are any or all of these remedies ok when pregnant? TIA!

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    aviva

    Not all -- for example, quercetin is not.

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Allison

apple cider vinegar works miracles! I'm in a family with many gluten sensitive members and they all have found relief with Apple cider vinegar!

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    Karen

    i was just coming to say that! Nothing has helped me more than ACV.

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Laura

Just wondering if all of these things would be fine to do with my 9 year old celiac?

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Veronica Culver

Aviva - what do you think about charcoal supplements for an incident like this or as prevention at the meal?

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    aviva

    Yes, can do.

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Katt Conley

I have carried digestive enzymes from Trader Joe's with me for years and didn't know it had anything to do with gluten all I knew is that they made me not bloat so much!

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Nancy McDonnell

Do you have any recommendations for a child that gets glutened? My five yo is highly sensitive and has a hard time swallowing pills, almost impossible. She cannot tolerate food or drink if I open the capsule and sprinkle it on her food.

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Carolyn

Have you ever heard of someone eating a form of gluten and then having their nose itch for an hour afterward?

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    aviva

    sure have! this is a common food sensitivity symptom!

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Jean

I call it being Glutenized!

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Dave

Gluten sensitivity affects one out of about 120 people, most don't know whats causing their problems. People who found out are the lucky ones, I had to ask to be tested. I can eat corn and rice products with no problems. When I went gluten free it took weeks for my digestive problems to start improving. Almost 2 years for full recovery. The lining of the gut is still scarred even though the villi have grown back. Milk intolerance goes along with this. Also some autoimmune problems can happen, Rynards, erythromelalgia. Also get tested for bone density, B12, D3, iron deficiencies. One might be told of a deficiency before finding out about gluten.

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Debbie

Great information. I have a question for you if you are willing. In the last 6 months after 50 years of life and the last 5 eating primarily a plant based diet, I have developed a wheat allergy. Full blown anaphylaxis kind! Weird. While I had cut back, I still splurged sometimes on Mom's yeast rolls at Thanksgiving, but a few crackers sent me to the ER. Not much help out there as to why this would happen. Thoughts, and would some of these tips help if accidental wheat intake... don't worry I carry an epi pen (I'm a nurse) I just hate taking drugs... benadryl has helped last time I was exposed. thanks in advance!

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Jossie

I find activated charcoal works wonders in these situations. I carry activated coconut charcoal capsules on me 24/7!!!!

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ashley

Thank you a million times over, I had all these symptoms this summer my joints hurt, I was getting weak, and I could pass out and sleep at a moments notice, I had no idea what was happening to me, my doctor look at me like all your blood work is normal are you faking it?I have never felt so helpless.Gluten and dairy are hard to eliminate but im trying,and I started taking supplements and drink kombucha, and I am on the mend. Thank you so much for this article!

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    Alison

    just want you to know that you are not alone -- I also have joint pain, fatigue, abdominal pain, and my medical tests are negative so my doctor suggests nothing. These comments are very helpful -- I'm going to look into trying kombucha...would love to know what other supplements people are taking to support good health.

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Mary Foran

Thank you so much. I'm always certain I am not going to get glutened and when it does, I have no clue as to any remedies other than to ride it out. This helps a lot!

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Marie

Digestive bitters by Urban Moonshine also come in a mouth spray, helpful if water isn't handy. A small spritzer lives in my purse.

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    aviva

    Love Urban Moonshine!

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pat

What about coconut activated charcoal to soak up the toxins?

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    aviva

    Yes, you can use activated charcoal.

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Lorraine

This is brilliant. Thank you. Just been 'MSGed', does anyone know if any of this protocol might work for MSG sensitivity?

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    aviva

    Not sure...

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Helen

You mention IBS and gluten sensitivity, but do these remedies apply to Celiac Disease as well?

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    aviva

    Yes -- though folks with celiac often have much more severe reactions to exposure...

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John

Need a disclaimer here. These suggestions will NOT help someone who is celiac who becomes glutened.

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Jill

We have always used coffee to speed along the digestive track and get the gluten out of the system it seems to help reduce the amount absorbed and after a good BM the kids are much better. Then we go into the healing mode of pro-biotics and good fats to help repair. It really seems to help shorten the icky cycle, but my kids are super sensitive if they get a lot of gluten they just throw up. So the coffee only works when they got a little residue and they just have upset tummies.

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Kathleen

This article is geared toward having digestive issues/sensitivities to gluten. Will any of these strategies work if you are gluten-free because of your thyroid? When I get glutened at a restaurant, I have symptoms of an autoimmune thyroid attack for weeks and weeks.

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    Megan Liebmann

    Hi Kathleen, This is Megan from Dr. Aviva's team, many of these strategies will indeed work, but I also suggest you take a peak at this article as it speaks to some deeper healing tactics. Megan- Dr. Aviva Romm Nutritionist

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Laura Correia

My chiropractor/nutritionist also recommends Aloe Vera juice after a food sensitivity exposure. 4-6 ounces seems to do the trick, repeating in 30-60 minutes if needed. Thanks for the article, Aviva! Great info!

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Bridie

Thats all very well but im concerned about finding supplements and probiotics that are truly gluten free and milk free. Most say no gliten containing ingredients (ngci) but thats not good enough for sensitive coeliacs or wheat allergics. Im so sensitive that ive given up all supplements and the only probiotics i consume are those found in df yoghurt. I do find antihistamines really help though if you can find a trusty brand. Clarityn rapide doesnt contain lactose or wheat-derived glucose syrup so its good if youre gf and df.

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