From diarrhea and constipation to bloating, fatigue, abdominal pain, and mood changes, signs of gluten intolerance are many. Still, some can be quite subtle, and for most people, it’ll take time before they can comprehend the reason behind their symptoms.

See also Teff: The Gluten-Free Superfood to Start Eating Today and 10 Super Healthy Gluten-Free Grains.

That’s why in today’s article, we’ll focus on the key signs of gluten sensitivity to help you make the right nutritional choices and end the damaging effects of gluten.

Gluten free /gluten intolerance foods

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a group of proteins found in certain cereal grains, including wheat, rye, and barley. They are present in common daily foods like wheat bread and pasta. Gluten can also be added to food as a binding agent and a thickener. That’s why if you don’t read your ingredients properly, you’ll consume gluten without knowing it.

What is Gluten Intolerance?

Gluten intolerance refers to when your body reacts and causes symptoms after eating gluten or gluten-containing foods. Gluten intolerance is also known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). 

Most people confuse gluten intolerance with celiac disease or gluten allergy, and although eliminating gluten can improve the three conditions, they are all different.

Gluten intolerance or any other food intolerance means the digestive system can’t tolerate a particular food, leading to abdominal discomfort, among other symptoms. So it’s more of a digestive issue. 

With celiac disease, it’s an inherited autoimmune disorder that involves having higher than normal levels of certain antibodies. These antibodies react to gluten as if it were a virus or a bacteria that shouldn’t be there. This may result in reactions leading to inflammation which can cause damage to the small intestines.

Wheat allergy, on the other hand, is an overreaction of the immune system, causing symptoms that can be potentially serious or life-threatening. This may include itching, vomiting, and even shortness of breath.

What Causes Gluten Intolerance?

The exact cause of gluten intolerance is unknown, but experts believe that it comes about due to the complexity of the protein gluten during digestion.

The gluten in wheat today, for example, is not the original form of gluten like the one present in ancient grains including spelt and Kamut. This is because cross-breading was done between the original wheat and wild grass about 10,000 years ago. This resulted in a more complex gluten structure that is difficult for the human gut to digest.

So the intolerances develop due to the difficulty in digestion and absorption of this protein. While the intensity of these effects can vary from person to person, they often cut across each individual. For example, if you have mild skin issues and often eat gluten, it would be difficult to point the problem back to gluten, even though it could be the cause. That’s why keeping off gluten is always good, whether you can tell the symptoms or not.

In fact, you can only realize you’re gluten intolerant once you go gluten-free because you’ll realize most of the issues you once dealt with are no longer there.

Intestinal signs of gluten intolerance

1. Constipation

Constipation is a condition in which there’s difficulty in bowel emptying, often associated with hardened stools. It often occurs due to too little or too much fiber and a lack of proper hydration. This can make it difficult to think gluten can be your cause of constipation.

However, several studies have confirmed that Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) can be an unusual cause of constipation in patients without any underlying cause.

2. Diarrhea

Diarrhea is another common symptom of gluten intolerance that can go unnoticed. Due to the effect of gluten on the absorption of nutrients in the gut, including water, it can result in diarrhea. This can occur within the first 60 minutes after consuming gluten; for others, it might take up to 12 hours or more.

Skin signs of gluten intolerance

3. Acne

Acne is an inflammatory skin condition that occurs when the pores on your skin become clogged with oil, dead skin, or bacteria. This can lead to pimples, blackheads, whiteheads, cysts, and inflamed patches on the skin.

While there are no clinical data confirming that gluten can cause acne, it has been shown to cause other factors that may lead to acne, especially if the internal environment is favorable. That’s why some people report having clearer skin after eliminating gluten from their diet.

When it comes to maintaining clear and healthy skin, various nutrients are vital, including vitamins A, B5, D, and E and zinc. However, someone with gluten intolerance may be deficient in these nutrients due to gut inflammation and malabsorption, 

thus putting them at risk of skin conditions like acne.

For instance, a study comparing the levels of vitamin A, zinc, and vitamin E in people with acne and those without found that these nutrients were significantly low in those with acne, which confirms the fact that your skin needs them to keep off the acne.

4. Eczema

Eczema is a group of skin conditions that can cause itchiness and dryness that’s often irritating and painful. It has been shown to affect about 15-30% of children and2-10% of adults. Research has found that eczema is mostly related to genetics; however, people with eczema have reported that some foods can start their symptoms or worsen them. Gluten is one of the suspected culprits.

One study found that 18% of people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity experienced skin issues, including rashes, eczema, and undefined dermatitis.

Another study surveying 169 people with eczema found that 40% of them went on a gluten-free diet as a way of managing their condition. Of those, 51.4% percent reported improvements after avoiding gluten.

Digestive signs of gluten intolerance

5. Bloating

Bloating is a feeling of fullness and tightness in the stomach, often as a result of too much gas. You may also have a feeling that the stomach is distended. It’s a common sign most people with gluten intolerance experience after eating gluten-containing food.

You can also experience bloating from overeating other foods such as beans. So, it’s a common condition, but it can occur more often in those with gluten intolerance.

6. Pain

People with gluten intolerance may also experience abdominal pain that cannot be traced to any other cause. 

The pain develops when gluten causes inflammation in the gut, causing tissue damage, thus leading to pain.

7. Nausea

Nausea is the uneasiness of the stomach that often comes before vomiting but is not always followed by vomiting. While nausea can be a sign of various issues, experiencing it after consuming gluten should be clear enough that the gluten is the cause.

Joint signs of gluten intolerance

8. Pain and swelling

If you often deal with joint pain and swelling, you may want to avoid gluten and see if your symptoms will improve.

Mental signs of gluten intolerance

9. Migraine

Migraine is considered a genetic condition that commonly affects families. However, it can also occur in people with gluten intolerance. 

Usually, migraine involves the nerves in the trigeminovascular pathway (TVP) — a group of nerves that control sensation in the face as well as biting and chewing.

Consuming gluten activates the TVP, which causes the release of various chemicals, including histamine. 

The TVP nerves also produce a protein called calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), which has been shown to trigger migraines.

10. Chronic fatigue

Having an allergy to any food may cause you to have low energy levels. Gluten has been shown to damage the villi in the intestines, which may affect your ability to digest food. This can make it difficult to absorb certain vitamins and minerals responsible for energy production, thus causing fatigue.

11. Mood changes

Research shows that gluten can inhibit tryptophan availability, leading to low serotonin levels. Tryptophan is an amino acid that’s converted to serotonin in the body. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter or a brain chemical that promotes levels of happiness, helping you alleviate depressing moods and anxiety.

When you eat gluten, your tryptophan levels drop, causing mood swings and depression-like symptoms.

12. Brain fog

Brain fog is a term used to describe various symptoms that can affect your ability to think. These may include confusion, memory issues, forgetfulness, lack of mental clarity, lack of focus, and feeling mentally sluggish. While brain fog is mainly associated with a lack of sleep, stress, and medication, gluten has also been shown to cause some level of brain fog.

In one study, patients with non-celiac gluten sensitivity with brain fog, headaches, tingling, and balance issues reported improved symptoms after going on a gluten-free diet.

How is gluten intolerance diagnosed?

I. Through an elimination diet

Once you suspect a problem whenever you eat gluten, consider performing an elimination diet before going to the doctor.

This involves eliminating gluten from your diet completely for at least 30 days and up to 3 months, then reintroducing it. If your symptoms improved during elimination and started after you reintroduced the gluten, then it’s clear that gluten was the problem.

To get accurate results, don’t eliminate any other food, such as dairy, during this period.

II. Go for testing.

Making a gluten intolerance diagnosis can be difficult since there are no tests for the same.

However, if you experience the symptoms after ingesting gluten, the doctor will want to make sure it’s not celiac disease or a gluten allergy.

So they’ll send you for certain blood tests to check for certain antibodies that indicate the presence of these conditions.

In some cases, a biopsy can be taken from the tissues in your digestive tract.

Once it’s confirmed that you don’t have celiac or an allergy, the doctor will advise you on eliminating gluten and all foods containing it. 

Treatment for gluten intolerant

There is no treatment for gluten intolerance, but going on a gluten-free diet can significantly improve the symptoms. 

Incorporating Probiotics into your diet can also help restore damaged gut flora and improve function.

How to Go on a Gluten-Free Diet

Choose gluten-free grains including:

  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Amaranth
  • Brown rice
  • Oats
  • Buckwheat

Limit your intake of processed foods.

Most processed foods can contain sneaky ingredients, including gluten. By eliminating these foods and incorporating whole foods, you’ll be more aware of what you eat, thus avoiding any chances of consuming gluten.

Clean out your pantry

Another important step to take is to do a cleanout in your pantry. Remove anything that’s gluten-related and replace it with non-gluten food ingredients.

This can be difficult if the rest of the household is not on board, but you can explain to them why you are doing it. This will allow them to understand and even offer you support.

You can also find gluten-alternative recipes you can enjoy together as a family.

Eat a healthy, balanced diet

While trying to go gluten-free, ensure you eat healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats. These will help keep you full longer and prevent any cravings that can make you go back on your goals.

Avoid gluten-containing beverages

Common ones may include alcohol, pre-made smoothies, coffee drinks, or some milkshakes.

Read food labels

Besides the obvious sources like wheat bread and pasta, gluten can be present in most food ingredients. The best way to point it out is to read the ingredients list carefully.

Cook more meals at home

While more restaurants are offering gluten-free meal options today, they often come with an added cost. In addition, cross-contamination can occur. The best way to save some coins and enjoy a healthy meal is to cook at home.

This gives you more control over what goes into your food, and you can enjoy your meal guilt-free. 

Avoid gluten-containing condiments

These may include things like 

  • Some salad dressings
  • Pasta sauce
  • Barbecue sauce
  • Soy sauce
  • Malt vinegar
  • Some marinades
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Teriyaki sauce

Related Articles:

  1. Is Brown Sugar Gluten Free?

  2. Is Flaxseed Gluten Free?

  3. Is Tomato Paste Gluten Free?

  4. Are Corn Flakes Gluten Free?


Final Thoughts

Gluten is a group of proteins common in certain grains. They are often present in foods like bread and pasta; while you may enjoy them, the gluten may be tough for your stomach to digest.

This may result in a condition known as gluten intolerance which may cause various digestive issues like abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, migraines, and brain fog, among others.

Gluten intolerance has no treatment, and eliminating gluten from your diet is the only way to prevent symptoms.

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