Gluten Intolerance Symptoms: Everything You Need To Know
When you’re experiencing digestive discomfort, it can be hard to focus on anything else. And even though most people aren’t too keen to talk about it, gastrointestinal problems may be more common than you think. According to The American Journal of Gastroenterology, approximately 61% of the US population may regularly suffer from gastrointestinal symptoms, with some of the most common symptoms being abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation.
Interestingly enough, those are also some of the most common symptoms of gluten intolerance/sensitivity.
Although there are any number of different causes that could potentially lead to digestive discomfort, more and more individuals are finding that gluten may be at the root of their problems. At the same time, leading minds are discovering that gluten sensitivity can be a major issue, even for those who test negative for celiac disease. Here, we take a closer look at the signs of gluten intolerance/sensitivity and what you can do to help get your gut back on track.
But first, let’s cover the basics.
What Is Gluten?
Gluten is a family of proteins that are found in all grains, including (but not limited to) wheat, barley, and rye. And because grains are a prime ingredient in so many foods (and a secondary ingredient or additive in so many other foods), gluten tends to play a big part in the American diet.
Those with celiac disease, non celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), or gluten intolerance, need to avoid gluten to prevent the inflammation and damage it can cause. The symptoms of gluten sensitivity/intolerance are very diverse. For patients with celiac disease, gluten commonly causes inflammation in the small intestine. This inflammation can lead to the symptoms of gas, bloating, diarrhea, and intestinal pain.
Unfortunately, gluten related symptoms are not limited or restricted to the GI tract. There are numerous symptoms, diseases, and syndromes that gluten can either cause or contribute to. This article will address the litany of gluten related symptoms, diseases, and syndromes. If you are a visual learner, you can also watch the video below.
Foods that typically contain large amounts of gluten include the following:
- Soups (as a thickening agent)
Gluten is responsible for the elastic texture of dough and acts as a binder that holds a range of different foods together. That said, it doesn’t actually provide any known nutritional value. Gluten itself contains no essential nutrients.
For more information about what exactly gluten is, click here.
Celiac Disease vs. Gluten Sensitivity
One thing to be aware of is that it is possible to suffer from gluten sensitivity without having celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder; when celiac sufferers ingest gluten, their bodies mount an immune response that actually attacks the small intestine which can cause damage to the intestinal lining. It’s estimated that about 1% of the human population around the world has celiac disease, whereas an estimated 0.6 – 13% have non celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS)
Celiac disease antibodies can be detected in blood tests, making it relatively easy to diagnose. On the other hand, there are many who suffer from gluten intolerance/sensitivity symptoms, but do not have celiac disease. In fact, many doctors and other researchers believe that gluten sensitivity may be an entirely separate disease, and 60-70% of those who think they may have celiac disease may actually be gluten intolerant.
This means that if you’re suffering from the symptoms of celiac but test negative, you might still need to cut gluten from your diet before you start to see any improvement.
Watch the video below for an in depth overview on the Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance
Want to Watch the Full GLUTENOLOGY MASTERCLASS? Get Free Access to all 10 Modules when you register here – Glutenology.net/Registration
The Gluten Hydra
Gluten sensitivity manifests in hundreds of different ways. For this reason, researchers have labeled it a multi headed HYDRA of disease. Each head representing a different symptom or disease.
Click on image to enlarge
Studies show that from the first onset of symptoms, it can take the average patient almost ten years to get a formal diagnosis from their doctor. Why does it take so long to get the diagnosis? Simply put, both patients and doctors alike do not often recognize the vast array of symptoms that gluten can cause. Many doctors focus on intestinal symptoms, and miss the opportunity to make the proper diagnosis.
When doctors do not have an understanding of the broad symptoms gluten can cause, medications are often times prescribed to treat these gluten induced symptoms. This can lead to a prolonged failure to accurately diagnose celiac disease or gluten sensitivity/intolerance. This can also lead to an array of drug induced side effects on the GI tract. Research has also linked a delayed diagnosis to a reduced quality of life in patients as well as an increased need for more medical services and intervention.
Gluten Sensitivity Symptoms
The following image may be helpful in clarifying this.
Click on image to enlarge
Subtle Symptoms of Gluten Exposure Are Common Before Disease is Diagnosed
Many people develop symptoms that are often not classified as disease. These symptoms may be dismissed as minor irritations by patients and doctors alike, but they are important to recognize, because they are often times indicative of a gluten issue years before major disease develops.
- Loose Bowels
- Heart Burn
- Blood in the stool
- More in depth information on GI inflammation caused by gluten
- Bleeding gums
- Cavities (enamel defects)
- Swollen tongue
- Cold sores
- Tonsil stones
- Loss of smell
- More in depth information on the oral symptoms caused by gluten
- Brain Fog
- Mood Swings
- Aggressive outdoor allergies
- Shortness of Breath
- Recurring Infections
- Chronic cough
- Spontaneous nose bleeds
- Numbness & Tingling of Extremities
- Dizziness/loss of balance
- Abnormal blurry vision
- More information on neurological diseases linked to gluten
- Breast Tenderness
- Water Retention
- Painful Menstruation
- Absence of Menstruation
Muscle & Joint Symptoms
- Muscle stiffness
- Pain and swelling
- Short stature
- More in depth information on gluten induced muscle & joint problems
- Inability to lose weight
- Inability to gain weight
- Pre-diabetic blood sugars
- Intermittent Hive Outbreaks
- Small areas of eczema
- Inflammatory rashes
- More in depth information on gluten induced skin diseases
Gluten Related Diseases
If left undiagnosed, gluten exposure over long periods of time can cause or contribute to a host of different health issues. The following Is a list of symptoms, diseases, and syndromes that have been linked to gluten sensitivity. Some of them are caused by gluten. Some of them are exacerbated by gluten. Some of them clinically resolve or improve with a gluten free diet.1-14
- Abdominal pain and distention
- Addison’s Disease
- Alopecia (hair loss)
- ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis)
- Anemia (can be caused by the following nutrient deficiencies)
• Vitamin C
• Vitamin E
- Angina Pectoris (chest pain/pressure)
- Antiphospholipid syndrome
- Anxiety Disorders
- Aortic Vasculitis
- Aphthous ulcers and canker sores
• Juvenile rheumatoid
• A.S. (Ankylosing Spondylitis)
- Autism and other learning disorders
- Autoimmune Hepatitis
- Bell’s Palsy
- Biliary cirrhosis
- Bipolar Disease
- Bitot’s spots
- Bone fractures
- Bone pain
• Increased risk of GI tract, liver, pancreatic, thyroid, and skin cancers
- Celiac Disease
- Cerebral perfusion abnormalities
- CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome)
- Cheilosis (drying and chapping of the lips)
- Cholangitis (gall bladder inflammation)
- Chronic constipation
- Coagulation abnormalities
- Coronary artery disease
- Crohn’s disease
- Cutaneous vasculitis
- Cystic fibrosis
- Delayed puberty
- Dermatitis Herpetiformis
- Dermatitis (skin inflammation)
- Diabetes Mellitus type I (shares the same HLA genes as Celiac disease)
- Down’s syndrome
- Duodenal erosions
- Dysautonomia (Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy)
- Early menopause
- Epilepsy (seizures)
- Erectile Dysfunction
- Erythema nodosum
- Failure to thrive
- Gastric bloating
- Giant Cell Arteritis
- Grave’s disease
- Growth retardation
- Hair loss
- H. pylori infection
- IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
- Lactose intolerance
- Malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies
- Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS)
- Mental retardation
- Migraine headache
- Multiple sclerosis
- Muscle wasting
- NAFL (Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver)
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Pancreatic insufficiency
- Parathyroid carcinoma
- Parkinson’s disease
- PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome)
- Polyglandular syndrome
- Secondary food allergy response
- Sjogren’s syndrome
- SLE (Lupus)
- Spina bifida
- Spontaneous Abortion
- Steatorrhea (Fat malabsorption)
- Thyroiditis (hypothyroidism)
- Tremors (neurological)
- Ulcerative colitis
How Does Gluten Cause So Many Different Types of Symptoms & Health Issues?
Simply put, gluten elicits immune responses that can lead to tissue damage and inflammation. Traditionally, it was thought that gluten induced damage was limited to the intestines, but doctors and scientists now know that gluten can affect any tissue in the body. Add to this that gluten induced intestinal damage leads to malabsorption and malnutrition. Nutritional deficiencies are another reason why those with gluten sensitivity can develop a wide array of health issues. For example, mineral deficiencies can contribute to bone loss, iron deficiency to anemia, vitamin B12 deficiency to anxiety, depression, neuropathy, and fatigue. There are numerous connections between nutritional deficiencies and disease development.
Caution: Gluten Can Mask It’s Own Toxicity
Doctors and patients alike have often contemplated why some people experience no symptoms for years before being diagnosed with gluten related illnesses. Research shows that gluten can be degraded into smaller proteins that mimic the pain killer, morphine. These proteins, sometimes referred to as exorphins and gluteomorphins are thought to mask the inflammatory damage caused by gluten in some patients. That being said, an absence of symptoms does not always mean that a person is not having a gluten reaction. As a matter of fact, gluten sensitivity is quite common
Researchers believe that somewhere between 6 – 33% of all Americans may be gluten sensitive, and that 1 in 100 have a severe form of this sensitivity causing the the autoimmune intestinal disease, celiac sprue, a case can be made that everyone in America should be screened for gluten sensitivity.
What Causes Gluten Sensitivity?
Given that gluten intolerance/sensitivity is only just being recognized as a separate condition from celiac disease, science is still not sure what the underlying cause may be, but evidence points to a combination of factors to include, genetics, microbial imbalances, history of medication use, and environmental toxin exposures. Research suggests that the reactions to gluten and grains may also stem from other components of grains, including amylase-trypsin inhibitors (ATIs) and fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAPs) in addition to gluten.
But whatever the source, the results are the same: symptoms which can be alleviated by removing grains of all kinds from a person’s diet.
How Long Does Gluten Stay in Your System?
Depending on what and how much you eat, it generally takes about 39-52 hours for food to pass completely through your digestive system. Unfortunately, if you suffer from gluten sensitivity, the effects of gluten intolerance may last significantly longer.
The initial discomfort from ingesting gluten will likely begin to fade as the protein passes out of your stomach, through your intestines, and out through your bowels. So, you should begin to feel better after a few days—provided that you don’t continue to eat gluten during that time. But even with the gluten gone from your system, the damage it can leave in its wake may take longer to heal.
If you’re sensitive to gluten, it can cause your body to produce antibodies, which can attack your intestinal lining and lead to leaky gut or intestinal hyperpermeability. This allows toxins to more easily enter your bloodstream, possibly leading to longer-duration health problems. It can take as much as four months before those antibodies clear from your system, and the damage they cause can take even longer to heal.
Learn more about how gluten moves through your system by clicking here.
Should I Be Tested for Gluten Sensitivity?
Testing for celiac and gluten sensitivity can be a challenge, as many of the blood markers used in hospitals and doctors offices can come back falsely negative. It is important to understand that gluten sensitivity is technically not a disease at all, but rather it is a state of genetic predisposition. Therefore; if you’re suffering from gluten sensitivity symptoms, your first step should be to ask your doctor to perform genetic testing to help identify whether or not you have the genes that predispose you to reacting to gluten. You can also ask your doctor to test you for antibodies to gluten and for the blood markers of celiac disease. Though these blood tests can come back with false negatives, they are sometimes useful in helping you determine whether a gluten free diet is the right move.
If your doctor refuses to order genetic testing for you, At-home genetic test kits are available from Gluten Free Society that can help identify genetic predispositions to gluten sensitivity and celiac disease. There are no needles involved in these tests, just a simple cheek swab.
In terms of lab tests, genetic testing provides the most accurate evaluation to determine gluten sensitivity. So, if you’re considering going gluten free, don’t hesitate. Getting tested can help you know for sure what you’re up against, so you can take the right precautions to prevent long-term, gluten-related health problems.
Additionally, one of the best things you can do is listen to your body. If you find that you feel fatigued or achy following meals rich in wheat or other grains, or if you regularly experience stomach discomfort, gastrointestinal symptoms, or other signs of gluten intolerance. Gluten Free Society offers a quick, online gluten-sensitivity quiz that can help you determine whether cutting gluten from your diet might be the right choice.
What Dietary Changes Should I Make?
If you suffer from gluten intolerance symptoms and want to get your digestive health back on track, you probably want to know exactly what changes you should be making to your dietary lifestyle. But that can be a big question to address. The simplest answer is to avoid grains of all kinds. Gluten is present not only in wheat, barley, and rye (despite what the FDA labeling definition of gluten may say), but in all grains. So if you want to cut gluten from your diet completely, then grains and grain-based foods have to go.
Of course, that’s probably easier said than done.
Going gluten free means taking more drastic steps than just avoiding bread and pasta. There are many foods and other ingestible substances that include gluten in varying amounts. In other words, protecting yourself from the side effects of gluten sensitivity means going beyond the labels and having a clear idea of what you can and cannot have, long before your fork ever reaches your mouth.
But let’s get the obvious ones out of the way first:
We really can’t stress this enough: All grains include gluten. Anything that is made from grains or contains grain-based ingredients—even in small amounts—also contains gluten. Unfortunately, because the FDA only defines gluten as occurring in wheat, barley, rye, and certain crossbreeds of those grains, nutritional labeling on food packages might not be telling the whole story.
Additionally, processed food may easily be cross-contaminated with gluten even if they do not include grains in their ingredients.
Simply put, if you are sensitive to gluten, then grain is your enemy. And it may take some research to discover exactly where that enemy is hiding.
Is there gluten in mustard and ketchup? There might be. Although the base ingredients of many different condiments do not include grains, gluten is a cheap and easily available thickener, stabilizer, and emulsifier (which can keep certain food mixtures from separating). Many condiments include gluten to help ensure a thick, homogenized texture.
If you’re wondering which condiments are OK and which ones aren’t, you’ll need to look at the ingredient list. If you see the words stabilizers, emulsifiers, food starch, whey protein, sodium caseinate, dextrin, or plant or vegetable protein, there’s a good chance that the condiment in question has gluten.
Flour finds its way into a lot of things, including seasoning. In some cases, this is just an issue of cross-contamination; factories tend to make a number of different products, and it’s not always easy to keep some of one product from getting into everything else. In other cases, manufacturers may include flour to help prevent seasonings from caking together.
To avoid getting gluten in your curry powder, paprika, turmeric, cinnamon, etc., stick with fresh spices over prepackaged ones.
Soups can be a big problem if you’re trying to steer clear of gluten. Aside from the obvious pasta-based soups (such as chicken noodle), most canned soups include gluten as a thickener and emulsifier. Even if you decide to make your soup at home, be careful when using ready-made or add-water broth options, as many of these contain hydrolyzed wheat protein.
Some ready-made soup brands market themselves as gluten free, but once again, it’s going to be on you to check those labels and pick out the red-flag terms that could indicate the presence of gluten.
A lot of alcoholic beverages are made from grains, including vodka, whiskey, gin, bourbon, and beer. Some believe that the distillation process used to create many types of alcohol actually removes gluten proteins, but this may not always be the case. Those with gluten sensitivities may still experience symptoms when drinking grain-based alcohol. Additionally, the possibility of cross-contamination and additives can make alcohol a dangerous prospect for the gluten intolerant.
At the very least, avoid beer if you’re trying to go gluten free. Beer is fermented, not distilled, and thus survives the process with its gluten intact.
Desserts can be extremely difficult to monitor for gluten. The number-one rule for sweets and other dessert foods is to make them enjoyable to eat, and that often means mixing a range of different ingredients and food additives to produce desired flavors and textures. And, when ingredients are combined in a factory setting, there’s also always the danger of cross-contamination.
Be wary of any desserts containing malt, ice cream, cereal extract, sherbets, cake frosting, and any of the other ingredients mentioned above. The good news is that most desserts provide very little nutritional value, so cutting them from your diet is probably a good idea regardless of gluten sensitivity.
Unlike foods, medications have no regulations in place to ensure that package labeling discloses the presence of gluten. And although various groups have been working to enact laws that would change this particular oversight, and the FDA urges manufacturers to voluntarily disclose whether their product contains gluten, the truth is that gluten can easily find its way into your medicine.
Again, putting in the time to research ingredient lists can make a world of difference. Watch out for medications that contain starch, dextrin, cyclodextrins, and sodium starch glycolate, and make sure your doctor knows what kind of ingredients you need to avoid so they can adjust your prescriptions accordingly.
We Can Help You Go Gluten Free
Going gluten free can sometimes feel like an overwhelming task, but when you consider the range and severity of the short- and long-term health dangers of gluten intolerance, it’s undeniably worth the effort.
And thankfully, you don’t have to go it alone.
Gluten-Free Society has the insight, experience, and solutions to help you make the switch to a zero-gluten lifestyle. Our products are completely grain free, and we offer the recipes and wellness advice you need to get control of your gut. If you’re noticing stomach discomfort, fatigue, or any of the other symptoms addressed in this guide, then don’t wait; take the gluten sensitivity quiz today, and let us help you start feeling better.
Other Popular Articles:
- Hadjivassiliou M, Grünewald R, Sharrack B, et al. Gluten ataxia in perspective: epidemiology, genetic susceptibility and clinical characteristics. Brain. 2003;126(Pt 3):685-691.
- Fine KD, Do K, Schulte K, Ogunji F, et al. High prevalence of celiac sprue-like HLA-DQ genes and enteropathy in patients with the microscopic colitis syndrome. Am J Gastroenterol. 2000; 95:1974-1982.
- Kemler MA, van de Vusse AC, van den Berg-Loonen EM, et al. HLA-DQ1 associated with reflex sympathetic dystrophy. Neurology. 1999;53(6):1350-1351.
- Kavak A, Baykal C, Ozarmağan G, Akar U. HLA in alopecia areata. Int J Dermatol. 2000;39(8):589-592.
- Osborne, Peter. No Grain No Pain A 30-Day Diet for Eliminating the Root Cause of Chronic Pain. New York, Touchstone Simon & Schuster, 2016.
- Libonati, Cleo J. Recognizing Celiac Disease Signs, Symptoms, Associated Disorders & Complications. Fort Washington, Gluten Free Works Publishing, 2007.
- Murray JA. The widening spectrum of celiac disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999;69(3):354-365.
- Freeman HJ. Endocrine manifestations in celiac disease. World J Gastroenterol. 2016;22(38):8472-8479.
- Hadjivassiliou M, Rao DG, Grìnewald RA, et al. Neurological Dysfunction in Coeliac Disease and Non-Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity. Am J Gastroenterol. 2016;111(4):561-567.
- Isasi C, Tejerina E, Morán LM. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity and rheumatic diseases. Reumatol Clin. 2016;12(1):4-10.
- Leonard MM, Sapone A, Catassi C, Fasano A. Celiac Disease and Nonceliac Gluten Sensitivity: A Review. JAMA. 2017;318(7):647-656.
- Laurikka P, Nurminen S, Kivelä L, Kurppa K. Extraintestinal Manifestations of Celiac Disease: Early Detection for Better Long-Term Outcomes. Nutrients. 2018;10(8):1015.
- Kreutz JM, Adriaanse MPM, van der Ploeg EMC, Vreugdenhil ACE. Narrative Review: Nutrient Deficiencies in Adults and Children with Treated and Untreated Celiac Disease. Nutrients. 2020;12(2):500.
- Wierdsma NJ, van Bokhorst-de van der Schueren MA, Berkenpas M, Mulder CJ, van Bodegraven AA. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are highly prevalent in newly diagnosed celiac disease patients. Nutrients. 2013;5(10):3975-3992.