Gluten is found in foods like bread, pasta, cakes, and other processed foods.
Gluten intolerance is a condition where the body fails to digest gluten, which leads to gastrointestinal problems like bloating, stomach pain and even constipation.
Having this intolerance can be caused by celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or even wheat allergy.
People who have celiac disease (1) are unable to digest gluten because their bodies don’t produce enough of a specific enzyme.
Without this enzyme, gluten causes damage to the lining of the small intestine. It also prevents it from absorbing nutrients from food properly.
Celiac disease affects about 1% of people worldwide. It can be difficult to diagnose because there are no specific tests for it.
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (2), however, is an emerging condition that affects some people who don’t have celiac disease or wheat allergy.
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Signs & Symptoms Of Gluten intolerance
There’s no cure for gluten intolerance. However, you may be able to manage your symptoms by following a gluten-free diet. Here are some of the most common gluten intolerance signs to see if your body has trouble digesting gluten:
The immune system of people with gluten intolerance responds to gluten by producing antibodies that attack the lining of the small intestine.
This results in inflammation in the intestinal walls which causes pain and discomfort when digesting certain foods containing gluten.
The symptoms of gluten intolerance vary from person to person. Most sufferers experience stomach pain, bloating, and gas after consuming gluten-rich foods.
In people who suffer from this condition, gluten can increase intestinal gas production by causing water to be retained in their colon.
This leads to increased gas production. Gas can also be produced when your body breaks down the complex proteins in gluten into simpler forms of protein known as peptides (3).
These peptides can stimulate the gut’s nerves and muscles causing spasms that can later lead to bloating and diarrhea.
Bloating symptoms can vary from mild to severe depending on the amount of gluten consumed and how long the person has been eating it.
2. Digestion problems
If you have this problem, your body is not absorbing nutrients properly. This can lead to a variety of symptoms, including bloating, diarrhea, and constipation.
You may also experience other digestive issues such as gas, cramps, or stomach pain.
Digestive problems are a common symptom of gluten intolerance because the protein triggers an inflammatory response in your gut.
This can cause irritation and damage to your intestines, which leads to poor absorption of nutrients from food.
The most common symptom is diarrhea, but people with celiac disease often experience constipation (4) instead.
Both conditions can occur at the same time. It depends on how much damage has been done inside your digestive tract and whether or not you’re getting enough nutrients in your diet.
3. Lactose intolerance
Lactose intolerance is not a disease, but rather a condition. It occurs when the body lacks sufficient amounts of the enzyme lactase (5), which is needed to properly digest lactose found in milk and other dairy products.
If you have lactose intolerance, it means that you are unable to digest or absorb lactose efficiently. This can lead to uncomfortable symptoms such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
A lot of people who have symptoms of gluten intolerance also have symptoms of lactose intolerance. This may be because there is a genetic link between these two conditions.
In fact, 85% of people with celiac disease also have trouble digesting dairy products. So, if you’re lactose intolerant, there is a higher chance that you’re gluten intolerant as well!
4. Increased stress and anxiety
While some of these symptoms might seem obvious, others are less so. For example, you may not realize that you have increased stress and anxiety if you’re eating foods with gluten in them.
But this is one very common sign of gluten intolerance that many people don’t realize exists.
Stress is usually characterized by an increase in heart rate and blood pressure as well as sweating and muscular tension. It can also lead to headaches and abdominal pain, especially after eating.
When the body reacts to stress, it releases adrenaline into the bloodstream which causes the muscles to tense up and your heart rate to increase so that you can either fight or flee from danger.
This is known as the ‘fight or flight’ response (6). When we experience chronic stress over time, our bodies can become depleted of this hormone. This leads to other health problems such as depression, anxiety disorders, and insomnia.
When someone eats gluten-free foods or avoids gluten altogether, they often notice that they feel less anxious than they did before going on the diet.
This is because their bodies are no longer struggling to digest foods that cause inflammation in the gut.
In addition to feeling more relaxed overall, people who eat a gluten-free diet also tend to have more energy than those who don’t avoid gluten altogether or eat foods with it every day.
Gluten intolerance can cause anemia by destroying the red blood cells in your body. This happens because of a protein called gliadin which is found in gluten-containing grains.
Gliadin (7) contains a protein called alpha-gliadin, which is broken down by an enzyme called transglutaminase 2.
When this happens, it causes your immune system to attack itself and destroy red blood cells. If this occurs for a long period, it could lead to anemia.
People who have celiac disease are at higher risk for developing anemia than those who don’t have celiac disease but still have gluten intolerance.
Gluten intolerance can cause many different symptoms but fatigue is one of the most common.
Fatigue may be caused by low iron levels, lack of sleep, or stress. But it’s also common for people with gluten intolerance to experience fatigue as a symptom because their bodies are working hard to fight off the effects of this condition.
Many people with gluten intolerance report that they feel tired and weak when they consume foods containing wheat or other grains containing gluten such as rye and barley.
If you suspect that you may be intolerant to gluten or any other food or substance, consult your doctor for advice on how to proceed with testing and treatment options.
7. A decline in bone health
If you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, you’re probably already aware of the fact that it can cause a severe depletion of nutrients from your diet. This can lead to a variety of problems, including weight gain and osteoporosis (8).
One study found that people with celiac disease have lower bone density than those without it.
In fact, in this study, those with celiac disease had lower bone density than people with type 1 diabetes.
Another study found that patients with celiac disease had significantly lower bone mineral density than controls without celiac disease or other chronic diseases.
If left untreated, this can result in serious health problems such as osteoporosis or even osteopenia, which is when your bones aren’t as dense as they should be but aren’t yet osteoporotic either.
One of the most common symptoms of celiac disease is frequent migraine headaches.
Migraines are characterized by intense pain on one side of your head that may last for hours or days at a time and cause sensitivity to light and sound along with nausea and vomiting.
You may have heard that gluten can cause headaches, but the link isn’t widely accepted by the medical community. However, some people eat gluten and experience this symptom regularly.
People with celiac disease may experience migraines because of the inflammation caused by their immune system reacting to gluten in their bodies.
This can irritate your nervous system, causing you to feel nauseous or have headaches.
9. Numbness in the arms or legs
Numbness in the arms or legs is a strong symptom of gluten intolerance.
It’s more common than most people think and can lead to serious health problems if not treated properly. If you are experiencing numbness in your arms or legs, you must seek medical treatment immediately.
In order to determine whether you have gluten intolerance, your doctor will perform a physical examination, ask questions about your medical history and perform any necessary tests.
If they suspect that you have this condition, they may also want to order an endoscopy, which is a test in which a small camera is inserted into your digestive tract.
If numbness occurs at night while you sleep, it may be related to poor circulation in your legs and feet caused by sitting all day with your legs crossed.
10. Dental problems
One of the most common signs of gluten intolerance is dental problems such as tooth decay or gum disease.
This is because the yeast overgrowth in your intestines causes an increase in harmful bacteria. These bacteria then produce toxins that cause acid damage to your teeth and gums.
Inflammation (9) caused by gluten can also affect the mouth and gums where people may experience a sore throat or mouth ulcers.
People who have celiac disease experience tooth enamel erosion at higher rates than those without celiac disease. The erosion occurs because of chronic inflammation in the mouth which weakens tooth enamel over time.
A doctor can diagnose gluten intolerance by doing a physical exam and asking questions about symptoms and medical history. There are three main tests for diagnosing gluten intolerance:
Blood tests: Blood tests check for certain antibodies that are present when someone has celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. A doctor may also do an endoscopy (10) to see whether there’s damage to your small intestine.
Stool sample: A stool sample can detect evidence of damage to the lining of your small intestine caused by eating gluten. This test requires at least three months on a strict gluten-free diet before it can be accurate.
Small bowel biopsy: A small bowel biopsy allows your doctor to look for signs of damage in your small intestine, such as inflammation and tiny ulcers.
The only way to be sure if you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity is to avoid all gluten for at least three months before reintroducing it back into your diet. If your symptoms return after reintroducing gluten, then you should be tested for celiac disease.
If your symptoms don’t return after reintroducing gluten, then you may have non-celiac gluten sensitivity and can continue eating foods containing wheat.
However, it’s important to be aware that there are still many unknowns about non-celiac gluten sensitivity, so it’s best to keep a food diary and look out for any changes in your symptoms over time.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, it’s best to get checked out by a doctor. You will then be able to find out if you are intolerant to gluten and what that means for your diet.
The sooner you know what your triggers are, the sooner you can begin feeling better!