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February 12, 2018

9 Signs of Gluten Intolerance to Guide You to a Gluten-Free Diet

gluten intolerance
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Gluten intolerance is a common sensitivity to gluten found in rye, wheat, and barley. This is often confused with celiac disease, which also comes with sensitivity to gluten and shares many of the same signs of gluten intolerance. On the other hand, these two conditions are actually different conditions. You may be sensitive to gluten if you experience gastrointestinal issues, fatigue, joint pain, and more.

Gluten sensitivity is likely more common than we know. According to researchers, anywhere from 0.5% to 13% of people suffer from non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Do you have any of these signs of gluten intolerance when you eat wheat or other food with gluten? It may be time to switch to a gluten-free diet.

#1. Bloating After Eating

One of the most common signs of gluten intolerance is bloating after you eat. You may feel like your stomach is full of gas or simply swollen. You may also notice your abdomen becomes noticeably distended. According to one Italian study, 87% of who were suspected to have gluten intolerance experienced abdominal bloating after meals.

#2. Chronic Fatigue

Fatigue is a common but vague symptom that affects everyone from time to time. While chronic fatigue can be a sign of many health problems, it’s often linked to the presence of gluten intolerance.

This fatigue can be the result of dealing with inflammation and other symptoms. It may also be related to improper absorption of nutrients and vitamins due to damage to the lining of the gut. Without proper nutrition, fatigue becomes likely.

Chronic fatigue is not an extremely precise indicator of an affliction. Nonetheless, it may point to gluten intolerance if gastrointestinal problems, rash, or joint pain add up to the symptoms.

#3. Joint Pain

One of the most common signs of gluten intolerance that may be hard to attribute to your diet is joint or muscle pain. This type of soreness is often compared to that of fibromyalgia or rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Unfortunately, often times it is misdiagnosed. The joint pain of gluten intolerance is caused by an inflammatory response your body produces when you eat gluten.

There are some experts who believe that fibromyalgia itself is just a symptom, not its own disease. When you are sensitive to gluten, your body considers it a foreign invader and sends antibodies to destroy it. Instead, the antibodies destroy the lining of your intestines and stomach. The inflammation may appear in any part of the body, including the joints. Some people diagnosed with fibromyalgia report an improvement in symptoms after adopting a gluten-free diet.

#4. Diarrhea or Constipation

While constipation or diarrhea are normal now and then, it may indicate gluten intolerance if it happens frequently. With gluten intolerance, you will get inflammation of the gut when you eat. Over time, this damages the lining of your intestines. This can cause reduced nutrient absorption that can cause more frequent constipation or diarrhea.

According to researchers, more than half of people with gluten sensitivity regularly have diarrhea. This makes it one of the top signs of gluten intolerance. About one-quarter of people have frequent constipation.

#5. Abdominal Pain

Abdominal pain is second only to bloating in terms of prevalence among people with gluten intolerance. This pain often comes with diarrhea or constipation. According to one study, up to 83% of people with gluten intolerance report some level of abdominal pain that can be crippling.

#6. Skin Rash

Many people with gluten intolerance develop a skin rash when they eat food with gluten. Dermatitis herpeformis (DH) and keratosis pilaris are two common skin conditions related to gluten exposure. Both conditions cause very itchy rashes that may appear on the hairline, buttocks, face, torso, and arms. Some people also develop a condition that resembles eczema after eating gluten.

DH is a lifelong and blistering skin condition. Only around 1 in 10 people with DH have gastrointestinal symptoms that suggest a gluten intolerance. However, virtually all cases are a response to gluten.

There are other forms of skin disease that can indicate gluten sensitivity, which makes it one of the hallmark signs of gluten intolerance. If you have any type of stubborn skin disease like psoriasis, blisters, or itchy rashes, it may indicate gluten sensitivity.

#7. Migraines

An occasional migraine or headache is normal, affecting around 10% of adults in the U.S. often. Nonetheless, research shows that people who are gluten intolerant are more prone to migraines than other people. 30% of people with celiac disease and 56% of people with gluten sensitivity report chronic headaches or migraines.

On its own, this symptom isn’t enough to consider gluten intolerance. Still, you might want to try a gluten-free diet if you have chronic headaches as well as a rash or gastrointestinal problems.

#8. Lactose Intolerance

Gluten intolerance doesn’t make you lactose intolerant, but the conditions are related. When you are intolerant or sensitive to gluten, it damages the lining of your gut over time. When gluten compromises this lining, you may experience symptoms of lactose intolerance when you eat dairy.

#9. Depression

Not all signs of gluten intolerance involve gastrointestinal symptoms. Many people also suffer from depression. While depression affects around 6% of adults, people who have digestive problems — including IBS and gluten intolerance — are more susceptible to depression and anxiety. People with celiac disease are even more prone to depression than those who are gluten sensitive.

While the exact reason isn’t known, researchers have many theories. Abnormal serotonin levels may be one cause. This neurotransmitter or “happiness” hormone is associated with depression when levels fall too low. The higher risk of depression can also be caused by changes in gut bacteria or gluten exorphins, peptides. These form during digestion of some types of gluten that can interfere with the central nervous system.

Final Word

If you experience several of these symptoms, you may have gluten intolerance and not even realize it. Gluten sensitivity can affect many areas of your life and reduce your overall well-being. Switching to a gluten-free diet is the only way to truly solve these problems. This diet can offer health benefits, even if you don’t have gluten intolerance.

Have you been diagnosed with gluten sensitivity? Have you noticed improvements in your health after adopting a diet free of gluten? Leave a comment to let us know your thoughts!

Image source: 1, 2, 3

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Dr. Joe Jacko

Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio at Grandview Primary Care. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

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