Getting glutened sucks. It can wreak havoc on your gut, mess with your entire digestive system, disrupt your immune system, and make you feel terrible. In this article, I discuss how digestion works and how long it takes for gluten to get out of your system after you’ve been accidentally glutened. Please note this article is not a substitute for medical advice. This post contains affiliate links. Please see my disclosures.
Maybe you ate something without checking a label, or a trusted restaurant caught you off guard with the wrong dish. Maybe you got cross-contamination from your shared kitchen or unknowingly ate a hidden source of gluten by mistake.
Regardless of how it happened, every person with a gluten disorder knows that gluten happens, and when it does, it can hit like a ton of bricks.
If you’ve been accidentally glutened, you may be experiencing painful symptoms like bloating, stomach aches, diarrhea, nausea, headaches, or brain fog, and you may be wondering how long it will take for gluten to leave your system.
In this article, I’ll explore the timeline for gluten elimination and offer tips for managing symptoms and building a more resilient gut so the next time gluten happens, you’re prepared!
If you’re looking for information about whether a gluten intolerance worsens after a gluten-free diet, please read, Does Gluten Intolerance Increase After a Gluten-Free Diet?
How Digestion Works
To understand how food moves through your body, you must first understand digestion.
Digestion begins in the mouth, where the mechanical (chewing) and chemical (digestive enzymes) are hard at work to break down your food.
The food then enters the stomach, where stomach acid will further break down food particles, delivering it to the small intestine for absorption. The small intestine’s job is to feed all the organs and cells in your body.
It typically takes six to eight hours for the food to pass through the stomach and small intestine.
The food then enters the large intestine (colon) before the undigested parts of the food are eliminated.
The Mayo Clinic researched to measure the precise total transit time – from eating to elimination – and found that food takes an average of 53 hours to clear your body entirely.
The majority of the transit time is through the large intestine (40 hours), although for women, it’s 47 hours, and men averaged 33 hours through the colon.
The transit time will vary depending on the food you eat. Sweets and refined carbohydrates will digest more quickly than protein-rich or high-fiber foods.
The small intestine is an essential organ in the digestion process. The entire digestive process can be thrown into a loop when the small intestine is damaged and impaired.
How Long Until Gluten Clears the System?
How much time does it take for gluten to clear your system? The answer to this question isn’t clear-cut and depends on a number of factors, including the following:
(1) How much gluten is in your system (or how much gluten you accidentally ate): Did you eat a small amount of gluten due to cross-contamination at a restaurant, or did you eat an entire wheat flour pizza by mistake? The more gluten in your system, the longer it may take for your digestive system to “process” it.
(2) The strength of your small intestine. Is your gut healthy or impaired? Do you have a digestive disease that could have impaired your digestive system?
If you have celiac disease and you’ve been accidentally glutened, it will take time for gluten to move through your system and for the small intestine to heal and repair itself again.
(3) The type of food consumed. Some foods, like meats, are harder for the digestive system to process. Even gluten is a difficult protein for humans to digest and has been linked to an inflammatory response in anyone who eats it. Gliadin, for example, cannot be broken down completely by the digestive system.
Eggs, on the other hand, are considered a bioavailable food, which means your body can easily digest them.
Symptoms of Lingering Gluten
When exposed to gluten, some people experience immediate symptoms, while others experience a delayed reaction.
For example, people with celiac disease who follow a strict gluten-free diet might experience urgent diarrhea within 30-60 minutes of eating it. Others might experience delayed symptoms, such as migraines, acne, joint pain, and painful bloating.
In my experience, individuals with healed mucosal lining (lining of the small intestine) will bounce back more quickly from a single gluten exposure and will more quickly purge gluten from their system.
Unfortunately, those with poor gut health may experience nagging stomach aches or chronic bloating that may last for days or months.
Can You Speed Up Recovery?
The healthier your digestive and immune systems are, the easier your recovery will be.
For example, if you have a leaky gut and haven’t put in the hard work to put your celiac disease symptoms into remission, the road to recovery from accidental gluten exposure may be longer and harder.
However, if you’re feeling well, eat plenty of anti-inflammatory foods (green juices and bone broths can help soothe the digestive tract), and religiously take a high-quality probiotic and other recommended supplements every day, you might be able to bounce back from an accidental glutening episode within a few hours vs. a few days or weeks.
The key is to improve your digestion – and overall gut health – so these gluten episodes don’t set you back for weeks.
Tips for Improving Digestion
The key to digestion is to keep things moving through your body. We don’t want any clogged “pipes,” so to speak.
Below I share nine tips for improving digestion and keeping things “running” smoothly (literally!).
For more suggestions on improving your digestive system, please consider enrolling in my SIGNATURE Gluten-Free Course.
(1) Eat Plenty of Anti-Inflammatory Foods:
There’s a reason they say an apple a day keeps the doctor away. It does, along with kale, spinach, broccoli, mushrooms, and many other fruits and vegetables.
These foods build immunity and stave off disease. Eat plenty of anti-inflammatory foods to build defenses against digestive and immune system attacks.
Not sure of what to eat? Read these articles to help you get started:
- 10 Naturally Gluten-Free Foods Every Celiac Should Be Eating
- 200+ Foods You Can Eat on the Gluten-Free Diet
- 9 Meal Planning Tips for People with Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivities
(2) Chew Your Food:
Digestion begins in the mouth. As you chew your food, your saliva creates a digestive enzyme called amylase, a chemical that helps to break down food and aids in digestion.
The combination of the mechanical (chewing) and chemical (digestive enzymes) processes aid digestion and ensures the food you eat is properly broken down before it enters the stomach.
(3) Take a Digestive Enzyme:
Many experts recommend taking a digestive enzyme before eating out or when you might get accidentally glutened despite your best efforts to eat gluten-free.
Some digestive enzymes are specially formulated to help break down gluten (they contain the enzyme protease, a digestive enzyme naturally produced by your digestive tract).
Again, taking digestive enzymes doesn’t give you permission to eat gluten; it only offers a little insurance in case you get glutened despite being careful.
Digestive enzymes do not prevent an autoimmune reaction; they may only help queal the symptoms of an accidental glutening.
(4) Mind Your Gut Health:
Many people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity have poor gut health. In people with celiac disease, in particular, the small intestine has been damaged and needs TLC to aid in its repair.
I highly recommend talking to your doctor about taking a high-quality probiotic (I take 50 billion CFUs daily).
You can also eat fermented foods, like lacto-fermented pickles and kombucha, to boost your gut health and seal and heal your leaky gut. You can also take the Heal Your Gut Challenge to help you kick-start better gut health.
(5) Eat Plenty of Fiber:
Fiber is essential to keeping things literally “moving” through the digestive tract. I discuss the importance of fiber to the gluten-free diet in this article. You’ll also want to eat plenty of soluble fiber to help bulk your stool and rid your body of toxins.
(6) Eat Less Meat:
Many people think eating meat is healthy, but I assure you, meat is not classified as a “health” food. Meat is an inflammatory, highly acidic food.
Eating meat can sway your body’s delicate ph balance to slightly acidic (which makes your body ripe for disease) instead of perfectly alkaline.
Meat is also low in fiber and often challenging for your digestive system to fully break down (think about how much work goes into thoroughly chewing a piece of steak!).
By all means, enjoy eating meat, but consume it in moderation to protect your digestive system from having to work overtime.
Go for a walk after eating to help food move through your digestive system (gravity can help!).
In fact, studies show that a brief 15-minute walk after a meal can aid in digestion as well as improve blood sugar control.
(8) Avoid Sipping When You Eat:
While you need to drink plenty of water, don’t do it while you eat. Your stomach acid works hard to break down your food.
This “fire” in your belly helps break down large food particles into digestible bits. However, if you pour water on the “fire,” your digestive juices won’t be as strong.
Instead, wait 30 minutes after you eat to drink so you don’t prematurely put out your digestive “fire” mid-way through your meal. This may vastly improve your overall digestion in the long run.
(9) Drink Plenty of Water:
Water will help flush gluten and toxins from your body, so drink plenty of it throughout the day. Water contains zero calories, and it’s free. Water keeps things flowing smoothly through the digestive tract, so drink up!
As you can see, the digestive system is an amazing system that helps us turn the food at the end of our forks into fuel every cell in our body needs.
Unfortunately, gluten happens, and when it does, you’ll be better equipped at flushing it out of your system faster now that you’ve primed your digestive tract for good health.
And most of all, remember, this, too, shall pass (quite literally).
Read my article, 7 Ways to Recover When You Eat Gluten by Accident for more tips and home remedies.
Want more information on digestion, gluten, and celiac disease?
- Does Gluten Intolerance Increase After a Gluten-Free Diet?
- What Happens If You Eat Gluten With Celiac Disease?
- Supplements for Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance
- Do Digestive Enzymes for Gluten Work?
- The Benefits of Probiotics for Celiac Disease
- Why Fiber Matters and a High-Fiber Gluten-Free Foods List
- Why the “Gluten-Free Heart Disease” Study Is Dead Wrong
- 12+ Must-Read Books about Celiac Disease and Gluten-Free Living
- What Is Gluten?