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 as well as how long it takes 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.
I know you’ve been in that horrible position of an accidental glutening. Maybe you ate something without checking a label, or a trusted restaurant caught you off guard with the wrong dish. Ug!
I’ve written in the past about what to do when you’ve been accidentally glutened, including some home remedies many gluten-free people I know utilize to lessen their symptoms.
However, you might be wondering just how long do you have to wait it out until the gluten passes through your digestive system.
The answer to this question isn’t simple, but I will try to shed some light on the topic in this article as well as offer tips to improving your digestive system so that you can more easily recover the next time gluten happens.
How Digestion Works
To understand how food moves through your body, you must first understand the digestion process.
Once you eat something, it can take six to eight hours for that food to pass through both your stomach and small intestine. The food then enters your large intestine (colon) before the undigested parts of the food are finally eliminated.
The Mayo Clinic conducted research to measure the precise total transit time – from eating to elimination in stool – and found that it takes an average of 53 hours for food to fully clear your body.
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 of transit time 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.
When someone with celiac disease ingests gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and sometimes oats, the body produces antibodies that attack the gluten and thereby damage and impair the small intestine.
The small intestine is an essential organ in the digestion process. It’s responsible for absorbing nutrients from the food you eat and then distributing those nutrients to every organ and cell in your body. When the small intestine is damaged and/or impaired, the entire digestive process can be thrown for a loop.
How Long Until Gluten Clears Your System?
You might be wondering how much time it takes for gluten, specifically, to clear your system. The answer isn’t clear cut, and often depends on the amount of gluten you ate.
Did you eat a small amount of gluten due to cross contamination at a restaurant, or did you eat an entire wheat pizza by mistake? The more gluten in your system, the longer it may take to digest the gluten and get it out of your system.
Remember, gluten, for all intents and purposes, is a difficult protein for humans to digest. Studies have shown that gluten causes inflammation in all who eat it and a part of gluten, known as gliadin, cannot be broken down completely by the digestive system.
If you suffer from celiac disease, for example, and you’ve been accidentally glutened, it will take some time for gluten to move through your system and for you to feel normal again.
For many people with celiac disease, the symptoms are fast and done. Anecdotally, some of my readers report having an immediate reaction after eating gluten, while others say they experience a delayed reaction that hits them about an hour after ingesting it.
Symptoms of a gluten episode can range from person to person too. Many suffer from vomiting and/or diarrhea as their bodies insist on purging the offending gluten protein. Most people, particularly those with healed mucosal lining (lining of the small intestine), feel immediately better after purging gluten from their system.
Others, unfortunately, experience nagging stomach aches or chronic bloating that may last for a few hours, or a few days. Still others experience acne, migraines, joint pain and/or a slew of other symptoms related to celiac disease in the hours and days post-glutening.
Can You Speed Up Recovery?
I truly believe 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 each and 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 with digestion is to keep things moving through your body. We don’t want any clogged “pipes,” so to speak.
Here are nine tips for improving digestion and keeping things “running” smoothly (literally!):
(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 a slew of other fruits and vegetables.
These foods build immunity and stave off disease. Eat plenty of anti-inflammatory foods to build your 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
- Downloadable Gluten-Free Meal Plans
(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 in digestion and ensures the food you eat is properly broken down before it even heads to your stomach.
(3) Take a Digestive Enzyme:
Many experts recommend taking a digestive enzyme before eating out or in situations where 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, which is 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 related to 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 digestive system has been damaged, and needs some 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 my Heal Your Gut Challenge to help you kick-start better gut health.
I wrote all about my healing journey in my book, Dear Gluten, It’s Not Me, It’s You!
(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 up 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.
When you eat meat, you 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 tough for your digestive system to fully break down (just think about how much work goes into fully chewing a piece of steak!).
By all means, enjoy eating meat, but just keep your cravings in moderation to protect your digestive system from having to work overtime.
Go for a walk after you eat to help food move down 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 particles of food 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 truly 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?
- 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?