What to Do When You’ve Been Glutened

Even the most assiduous label-readers among us sometimes miss “barley malt” buried in an ingredients list, or trust the word of a well-meaning friend who’s sure there’s no wheat in the soup . . . only to find out later that there was spelt, or rye, or whatever. Maybe all you saw was “gluten-free” on the label, and didn’t realize that box o’ dinner still had some dairy. Maybe you don’t notice until later that evening, or the next day, when your guts start to revolt and your long-lost migraines make an unwelcome return visit.

Here’s what to do when you’ve unintentionally consumed gluten, dairy, or another allergen:

Drink Gut-Heal Tea

See my previous blog post for my gut-heal tea formula. Make and drink at least a quart a day for at least three days, better a week.

Remember, this formula isn’t set in stone – it’s a general strategy. We’re looking to combine gentle astringents, soothing demulcents, wound-healing vulneraries, warming carminatives, and liver-restoring hepatics which will all play nicely together in one blend. Note that many of our favorite herbs here fill several of these roles at once – calendula is a mild astringent, a superb vulnerary, and a nice balanced hepatic, which is why I include it in my gut-heal tea whenever possible.


Calendula loves you, and wants you to be happy.

Drink Bone Broth

Some constituents in bone broth and their roles in recovering from a GI insult:

  • chondroitin sulfate, and other glycosaminoglycans from cartilage, soothe inflammation in the GI tract;
  • glycine is an amino acid which is integral in wound healing, increases digestive fire, and supports liver detox functions (which include clearance of the stress hormones released in response to consumption of an allergen);
  • gelatin, from the collagen in the bones and cartilage, heals the mucous membranes of the GI tract and restores its integrity;
  • the mineral content of bones is high, and broth is an excellent extraction medium; magnesium and sulfur compounds have particular relevance for GI and detox function.

If you’ve never made bone broth before, don’t worry – it’s not hard. Katja has a simple recipe for a basic bone broth here.

Drink bone broth in place of meals for one day. For the following week, drink a cup of bone broth with each meal, or at least twice a day.

Laminaria by Chris Booth, on flickr

Put a little seaweed in your broth for extra soothing and nourishing power.

Fast from Solids for One Day

You want to drink your gut-heal tea and your bone broth on a growling stomach, and keep your system empty otherwise, for the first day. The empty stomach lining triggers secretion of a hormone called ghrelin, which gives you the sensation of hunger, but also acts as an anti-inflammatory specific to the gut lining.

Even if you don’t usually get gastrointestinal symptoms when you eat your allergen, recognize that much of the irritation originates in the damage done to the gut lining. Sealing & healing the gut is the first step in the process of cooling the inflammatory cascades that cause your symptoms, no matter where they ultimately express. Recognize your hunger as an indicator of ghrelin release, a potent agent manufactured by your own body put out the fires and speed recovery. Hunger is healing; bask in it!*

* Now, now. Don’t take this too far.

Transition to easily-digested foods (soups, stews, etc) for the remainder of the week. Avoid snacking, so that your body has time to empty the stomach and secrete ghrelin between meals. Make sure you eat your last meal of the day at least two hours before bed, so that you spend the entire night with an empty stomach, and your body can devote its resources to repair and detoxification.

Walk a Mile

flowers_river_bridge_wide_RAW by mkromer

Don’t forget to stop and say hi to the plants.

Part of the discomfort that comes with consuming your food allergen is attributable to congestion in the lymphatic channels lining the intestines and abdomen. The lymphatic system has no pumps – the only way to move your lymph is to gently squeeze it along with the contraction and relaxation of skeletal muscles. Walking is a great way to get this happening in all the major muscle groups.

Walk one mile. If you’re feeling good after that, walk another mile. Continue until you feel satisfied.

Walking in the forests, fields, and other wild spaces counts for extra credit. Walking on a treadmill counts at half value, if that.

If you’ve gotten some solid movement time in during the day, it will help you feel ready for sleep when bedtime comes around.

Sleep for 10 Hours

During sleep, your body can focus on cleanup. The detoxification functions of the liver and other tissues are most active when you’re lying down, in a restful state, not busy processing food or other input.

To sleep 10 hours, first determine when you have to wake up. Count back 10 hours: if you need to get up at 8:00am, then 10:00pm is your bedtime. Get in bed and turn the lights out at that time. Lie down, close your eyes, and remember that this is in fact the most important thing you could be doing right now, that no one expects anything of you when you’re in bed, and that dreams are better entertainment than even the best Netflix series. (If you don’t dream, try taking three to twelve drops of mugwort tincture right before you turn out the lights.)

If you have difficulty sleeping, you may find this information sheet on sleep hygiene practices to be useful.

too much cat mint by "T"eresa, on Flickr

A catnap during the day could be helpful, too.

Support Your Weaknesses

Everyone’s sensitivity is unique; use herbs to support the places you’re most susceptible. If you get brain fog and headaches when you eat gluten, excuse yourself from mental exertions and try some betony and tulsi. (You can mix it right into your gut-heal tea; that’s allowed.) If you get jittery and irritable, walk a little further and take a dropperful or four of kava. You know where your trouble spots are – take care of them. They’ll thank you for it.


If you do these things, you’ll feel better. When you recover, you’ll be stronger than before, even if only mentally – now that you know you don’t have to get knocked down for the count, just because something turned out to have a bit of casein or a friend of yours didn’t know that kamut is just another name for wheat.

Be like dandelion - irrepressible.

Be like dandelion – irrepressible.

You are resilient. Your body is not fragile. All it takes is a little self-care, and the fires will go out, the alarms will wind down, and you’ll be back to your new self again.

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