Can a small amount of gluten make somebody sick?

Katarina Mollo MEd, RDN, LDN
Q:  I have a relative that has some type of gluten-allergy or celiac. My relative goes as far as reading the labels on everything and saying if he eats a drop of something with gluten in it, it will make him sick. Could such a small amount really make someone sick?


Gluten ingestion can cause very serious health complications for people with celiac disease and other gluten-related conditions. Staying gluten-free requires reading labels on everything consumed and watching out for cross-contact with gluten. Gluten is hidden in many foods, making label reading a vital part of staying healthy.

It is hard to know what type of gluten-related disorder your relative has. People have different sensitivity to gluten depending on the type of disorder, and it also depends on the individual. Below is an infographic that outlines the different gluten-related conditions, so you can read more about them.

People with celiac disease, Dermatitis Herpetiformis or wheat allergy have to be very careful in avoiding gluten. For those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity, it is unclear what the thresholds for gluten are, some are just as sensitive as someone with celiac disease, and others not as sensitive.

For instance, the threshold for someone with celiac disease is about 10 mg gluten/day. This is a tiny amount, about a 350th piece of bread -so basically a few crumbs. I have attached a second infographic that shows the amounts of gluten/threshold levels in a visual.

Again, I do not know what type of condition your relative has, but in any case, it can be very hard living gluten-free. Being understanding about his diet will be very helpful as eating outside the home and social situations can be very stressful.

If you want a quick overview of celiac disease and other gluten related conditions I recommend reading our new Quick Facts brochure. It has lots of great information to get a good overview of CD.

Reviewed October 21, 2022.

Note: This information is provided by NCA and Katarina Mollo MEd, RDN, LDN, NCA's Director of Education. This information is meant for educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for personalized medical advice or replace any medical advice provided directly to you by your health care provider. No liability is assumed by the NCA or Katarina Mollo, MEd, RDN, LDN by providing this information.

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