Among the more recent health trends that have come along in recent years is food that’s gluten-free. Why is it just becoming an issue now?
Gluten is present in a lot of foods we eat.
But do you know the signs and symptoms of gluten intolerance?
More importantly, whether or not you’re gluten intolerant.
Gluten is present in bread, wheat products like pasta and even pizza. It is also present in some processed foods, as well as medicine and even vitamins.
For most people eating food with gluten causes no problems. But for others, going on a gluten free diet has made life a lot better. Are you one of these individuals?
See if you have any of the symptoms below, and things you can do to avoid them.
Here are the signs you’re gluten intolerant.
11 Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance
1. You Experience Digestive and Gastrointestinal Issues Often
Abdominal bloating and diarrhea are common causes of gluten intolerance.
They are however digestive issues and gastrointestinal symptoms that can be related to many other things like eating certain foods, having a bad meal or stressful situations which makes them sometimes difficult to differentiate from other stomach issues.
The symptoms usually start out slowly and gradually increase. They are more common in young kids and infants.
In other instances there can also be stomach pains, vomiting, nausea and decreased appetite.
The only way to narrow down the cause is to keep a log of your food and see which ones consistently cause the problems.
2. Mood Disorders like Depression, Anxiety and Mood Swings
When someone has gluten intolerance they may present mood issues like depression, anxiety and mood swings.
The Clinical Psychology Unit at The University of Sydney in Australia observed that the reduced quality of life in celiac disease patients had more to do with depression than the gastrointestinal issues.
This led them to conclude that coping skills should be a part of the management process to complement the dietary strategies.
The mood issues aren’t just limited to celiac patients.
The Alfred Hospital at Australia’s Monash University also did research that patients who had non-celiac gluten sensitivity but still suffered from gastrointestinal problems even after going a gluten free diet.
These patients continued to go gluten free even if it didn’t improve the stomach issue because they felt better. Tests showed that gluten induced current feelings of depression.
Mood disorders including anxiety and depression are linked to gluten intolerance in a number of other studies. And by removing gluten from their diets, the mood issues improved.
3. You Suffer from Irritated Skin and Other Skin Conditions
Skin rash and a condition known as ‘chicken skin’ have been seen in a number of patients who are sensitive to gluten. These skin conditions are itchy and manifest themselves as rashes on the face, arms, body and elbows.
When it comes to skin conditions it is often a good to see a dermatologist since it can be difficult to determine the specific type of condition that is occurring.
4. Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia
Chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia have both been linked to gluten intolerance. The two are related as they affect the entire body.
- Chronic fatigue is a disorder where the patient is constantly fatigued without any condition that the doctors are able to pinpoint. They are tired often, cannot concentrate, don’t sleep well and can have unexplained muscle pain.
- Fibromyalgia on the other hand causes chronic pain in the muscles and soft tissues. People who suffer from this condition are also often tired because of the sleeping problems. Fibromyalgia is often thought of as a symptom and not a disease by itself.
The inflammation caused on the body by the immune response triggered by gluten can cause the symptoms experienced in chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia.
Reduction of gluten or going on a gluten free diet has also been shown to improve chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia symptoms in patients.
The Central University Hospital of Asturias in Spain showed that going on a gluten free diet improved the gastrointestinal and fibromyalgia symptoms in patients with gluten sensitivity.
5. You’re Losing Weight (but not trying to)
Because gluten intolerance can affect how well the body is able to absorb nutrients from food it can cause you to lose weight even if you’re not trying to.
Loss or decreased appetite can also occur with individuals who are gluten intolerant making them eat less.
Losing weight unintentionally is often a sign of a bigger health problem, which means taking a deeper look into what’s happening or making a visit to the doctor may be a good idea.
For those who suffer from celiac disease, eating foods with gluten damages the lining of the small intestine. This lessens the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food which results in weight loss even if you’re eating more food.
6. You Have Migraines and/or Chronic Headaches
Migraines can be due to a lot of different things.
Though celiac disease and being gluten intolerant has been shown to be a cause, checking for the underlying reason that’s causing the migraines is important.
Changing your eating habits to a gluten free helps alleviate the headaches.
Studies have shown that in individuals who were sensitive to gluten, close to a third of those who had celiac disease suffered from migraines.
This figure was higher for non-celiac gluten sensitivity cases where over half experienced these chronic headaches.
7. You Have Hormone Imbalances
Gluten has also been associated to hormonal imbalance. Many gluten sensitive patients have been diagnosed to have imbalances of the adrenal hormones.
The issue of hormone imbalance and gluten affects women more than men as it affects progesterone and estrogen. The issue is often worsened by menopause.
Hormone imbalance symptoms can show itself in the form of hot flashes, irregular menstrual cycles and lower levels of energy.
8. You Experience Joint Pain and Numbness
This is another symptom that can be surprising to some because it is not stomach related.
It has been shown that those with gluten sensitivity can experience pain in the joints. Some of these include the knees, fingers and hips.
It has also been linked to numbness in the extremities. The feeling has been described as being on pins and needles or like the limb has fallen asleep.
9. You are or Have Become Lactose Intolerant
For some people who are gluten intolerant, they also become lactose intolerant later on. This often happens to individuals who have celiac disease.
This condition is called “secondary lactose intolerance.” Its symptoms are the same as lactose intolerance like bloating, diarrhea and stomach gas.
Secondary lactose intolerance occurs in celiac disease patients because the gluten damages the lining of the intestines. As the damage to the lining worsens, the enzymes in the lining also decease.
These enzymes include lactase, sucrase and maltase which help digest different types of sugars. The lactase in particular is needed to break down the lactose from milk.
With less enzymes around the intestine isn’t able to properly digest the lactose making the individual lactose intolerant in the process.
The good news is that secondary lactose intolerance is temporary and can be reversed as the intestinal lining recovers once gluten has been take out of one’s diet. In its place you can drink lactose free milk.
10. You Have an Autoimmune Disease
Autoimmune diseases occur when the body’s own immune system attacks its own tissues instead of the foreign invaders like bacteria or viruses. This happens when something goes wrong and the body mistakenly recognizes its own as foreign.
There are over 80 different autoimmune diseases including type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and lupus.
“Every single autoimmune disease in which gluten as a contributor has been investigated has shown that gluten sensitivity is a contributor to that disease,” according to Sarah Ballantyne, a.k.a the Paleo Mom.
This is one reason why a good number of people follow the Paleo diet, which adheres to no gluten among other things. By removing gluten from one’s diet, it improves the symptoms.
11. You Experience Neurologic Symptoms
Symptoms such as feeling off balance without any reason or being dizzy all of a sudden are some of the neurological symptoms that gluten intolerance can have.
Both non-celiac gluten sensitivity and those with celiac disease experience this as gluten can cause a number of immune complex conditions that are harmful to the nervous system.
The Children’s Gastroenterology and Allergy Clinic in Christchurch, New Zealand refers to this as “The Gluten Syndrome”.
According to the Minneapolis VA Medical Center at the University of Minnesota, celiac disease has been long associated with neurologic and psychiatric problems. These included dementia, depression and peripheral neuropathy.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat and in some grains. It is what allows dough to rise, be elastic and have the shape that it has.
Gluten also gives these products its tasty flavor and chewy texture that we know them to have.
Gluten can be found in common products like barley, wheat (whole wheat and flour) and rye. It is present in some of our favorite foods like pasta, breads and pizza.
The 2 main proteins that make up gluten are glutenin and gliadin, with gliadin being mostly the cause of most gluten related issues.
Is Gluten Bad?
The answer here is yes and no.
If you have any type of gluten intolerance then it can cause harmful effects or at least irritating ones when you do consume gluten. This is when it becomes bad.
However, for most people gluten does not cause any harmful effects. For these people there is no need to cut out gluten from their diets or to go gluten free.
Gluten on its own doesn’t offer much in terms of nutrition. Therefore, there is really no real need to add it into our diets.
But what makes it valuable to health is that it is contained in many whole grains that are foods that can be beneficial to our health. These whole grains are often loaded with fiber that helps lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, cholesterol and even the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
They also contain B vitamins and iron which are needed by our bodies to form red blood cells.
There are some less common whole grains like quinoa, millet and amaranth what don’t have any gluten. These make for good alternatives to wheat and other grains if you do decide go on a gluten diet.
What is Gluten Intolerance?
Gluten tolerance has become a broad definition for a set of specific gluten related health issues.
When someone is gluten intolerant, it means that their bodies react to foods that contain gluten.
This happens because the immune system has an adverse reaction the moment the body breaks down the gluten proteins.
Gluten intolerance is divided into 3 types, with each one having their own set of characteristics. They are:
1. Celiac Disease
Celiac disease is a digestive disorder that occurs when a person ingests or consumes gluten. This can come from commonly known sources of gluten like some whole grains and wheat. It can also be from some products, medicines and even vitamins which have gluten hidden in them.
With Celiac disease, the body’s immune system mounts an attack on the intestines each time the person with the disease consumes any food that contains gluten.
This result is over time, damage to the digestive system is done, nutrients from food isn’t absorbed and a number of other digestive related symptoms like diarrhea occur.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, over 2 million people in the United States suffer from Celiac Disease. Most experts agree that around 0.7 to 1% of the U.S. population suffers from this disease.
2. Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity is often referred to as gluten sensitivity.
This form of gluten intolerance is different from Celiac disease in that while the individual who suffers from it also experiences all the same signs and symptoms, like joint pain, fatigue and digestive issues like abdominal bloating or diarrhea.
But unlike Celiac disease, there is no damage done to the intestines or digestive system.
3. Wheat Allergy
Wheat allergy is the less common but still does occur. People with wheat allergies often experience common allergy symptoms like itchiness, skin irritation and redness and breathing issues when they eat wheat or wheat products.
Testing for Gluten Intolerance and Celiac Disease
One of the issues with Celiac disease and gluten intolerance is that it is often misdiagnosed because it has a wide variety of symptoms that looks like other conditions. This is one reason why there is a very low rate of diagnosis with some medical experts putting it at only 5% to 10%.
At the moment there are two ways to test for Celiac disease and gluten intolerance. One way is to do a blood test and the other way is to methodically eliminate foods with gluten from your diet.
1. Blood Tests
Doctors today can check your blood levels to see if your levels of gluten antibodies are high.
This test only works if you eat your regular diet, including gluten products.
That way the results will show whether or not your body is mounting any immune response after you eat something that contains gluten.
- A negative blood test means you don’t have gluten intolerance while a positive result means you do.
If the results come out positive, the doctor’s next step is to see whether or not the condition is Celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
- To do this they will recommend you for a biopsy of your small intestine.
This will show whether or not there is any damage to it.
- If there is, then Celiac disease is the probable cause.
- If there isn’t then you do not have Celiac disease but are gluten intolerant.
2. Eliminating Gluten One-by-One from Your Diet
Another method that many people swear by is to systematically eliminate foods that contain gluten from their diets.
This is less invasive in that there is no drawing of blood for the test or any biopsy required.
But, it does take more time and effort.
Also, you don’t have any definitive diagnosis on what you really have.
To test for gluten sensitivity using this method:
- Make a list of all the foods that contain gluten you usually consume and eliminate them from your diet. See the list below for foods that have gluten.
- Keep in mind that you have to be very thorough in eliminating all foods containing gluten from your diet, whether they’re hidden or not.
- Since it takes the body time to get food out of the system and the gluten free diet to take effect, the process usually takes between 2 to 4 weeks.
- During those weeks see if you feel any better and if the symptoms (like those listed above) reduce or go away.
- After that period, re-introduce each of the gluten foods you removed from your diet back one by one.
- Use a journal to note which food you added back on which day and only add one food at a time. This way you can tell which specific food may be causing the symptoms, if or when the symptoms do happen.
For the foods that give you any adverse reactions, take note of them and totally eliminate them from your diet and shopping list.
The Gluten Free Diet
A gluten free diet is one where all foods what have gluten are removed from one’s diet. This is one of those tasks that is easier said than done, because we’ve gotten used to eating a lot of foods that contain gluten. Plus, many foods have gluten in them that we aren’t aware of.
Known foods with gluten like wheat, rye and barley should not be eaten. In a gluten free diet, many other common favorites like some cereals, pasta, pizza and other processed foods should also be avoided.
- The only way to completely make sure that all the food you’re eating is gluten-free is to check each label thoroughly by reading the ingredients.
- A good way to still get some of the foods we often crave is to look for gluten-free versions of these. Many stores now carry gluten free breads and pasta.
- Even on a gluten free diet you can get all the nutrients and have a well-balanced diet. One example of a gluten-free diet is the Paleo diet.
List of Gluten Foods and Gluten-Free Foods
Food to Avoid (Foods with Gluten) List
Below is a list of foods that commonly contain gluten. Many of the store bought pastry can baked products are included.
Common Foods that Contain Gluten
- Baked Goods
To make sure that you stick to your gluten free diet, if you’re buying any of the food above, make sure that you look for “gluten-free” labels and options.
Wheat Products and Grains that have Gluten
These are some of the wheat products and grains to avoid. Check for the in the ingredients list to make sure that they aren’t included in the food you buy.
- Cracked wheat
- Graham flour
- Wheat bran
- Wheat germ
- Wheat starch
- White flour
- Whole wheat flour
Foods to Eat (Gluten Free Foods) List
Going on a gluten-free diet may take a bit of effort because many of the food we commonly eat contain gluten. However, there are many non-gluten food options.
Food that Don’t Contain Gluten
- dairy products
- lean beef
Gluten Free Grains
If you want to eat grains and take advantage of their nutrients and health benefits, here are some gluten free grains you can try.
Dining Out: Eating at Restaurants
Eating out is often more challenging if you have certain dietary restrictions.
The good news is many restaurants and eating establishments have a gluten-free menu or menu options that don’t contain any gluten.
Because this isn’t often noted on the menu itself, it is important to ask the server.
If you do have celiac disease make sure to also inform your server so they can recommend certain products or tell the chefs.
As a general rule, avoid bread or any bread related products.
Meats such as chicken, beef and seafood are good main entree options, while vegetables, corn, potatoes and rice are other ordering choices available that are gluten-free.
Gluten Intolerance Treatment
With gluten intolerance, the only treatment is avoidance.
This means a gluten free diet.
Going on a gluten-free diet does take work because it requires eliminating all the gluten foods from all meals. However, it also means feeling a lot better and ridding yourself of all the nasty symptoms that come with the condition.
To make this diet effective and get rid of the symptoms forever, anyone with Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity has to stay away from gluten foods for the rest of their lives. Otherwise, the symptoms will reoccur.
Once on a gluten free diet, you’ll feel better in just a few days. The improvements are very noticeable.
For those with celiac disease, staying free of gluten also helps heal damage done to the small intestine and prevents any further damage from happening.
As the intestine heals, it gets back its ability to absorb nutrients from food which allow the body to benefit from the foods eaten.
Depending on the amount of damage and length of time the disease was undiagnosed, it often takes around 3 months to half a year for the digestive system to heal.