Gluten is an umbrella term for a group of proteins found in certain cereal grains such as wheat, rye, barley, and triticale.
Gluten intolerance, also known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), is a relatively common food intolerance.
It shares some symptoms with celiac disease — you may be surprised to find out that gluten intolerance is also associated with non-gastrointestinal symptoms.
Below is a rundown of the most common symptoms of gluten intolerance. Also, if you and your healthcare practitioner agree supplements may help, we recommend the following:
One of the most commonly reported symptoms of gluten intolerance is bloating. Bloating is a swelling of the abdomen and is caused when your food is not digested properly. It is often accompanied by gas and abdominal pain.
Gluten intolerance can also cause diarrhea and constipation. Recent studies show that more than 50% of gluten-intolerant people suffer from constipation, while 25% suffer from diarrhea. (Volta et al., 2014)
It is important to note that all gluten-containing grains also contain different fibers and starches, which some people digest poorly. This means that gluten is not always responsible for the gastrointestinal symptoms people may experience when consuming a gluten-containing food.
Migraines are a serious and debilitating form of headache, and gluten-sensitive people may be more prone to them than non-sufferers.
A 2018 study published in the medical journal Nutrients, indicated that people with gluten intolerance or celiac disease are more likely to suffer from idiopathic headaches than non-sufferers. (Zis et al., 2018)
Depression and Anxiety
These are serious health concerns for many people. Both of these conditions can cause feelings of nervousness, hopelessness, lack of interest in things that were once pleasurable, appetite changes, insomnia, and mood swings.
A 2013 study published in Psychiatry Quarterly indicated that gluten intolerance is linked to anxiety and depression and possibly other mood disorders. (Jackson et al., 2012)
A foggy brain, as its name suggests, refers to an inability to think clearly. Brain fog can also cause difficulty concentrating, inability to focus, memory issues, and difficulty following simple instructions.
A 2002 study, published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, suggests that there is a connection between gluten and IgG antibodies, which could cause brain fog. (Jackson et al., 2012)
The consumption of gluten has been linked to several autoimmune conditions, such as autoimmune thyroid disease. This is because gluten is known to cause damage to the gut lining, increasing intestinal permeability. This is also known as leaky gut.
If you have an autoimmune disease, removing gluten is a good idea because this will reduce the possibility of an immune response occurring in the gut due to increased intestinal permeability.
If you include gluten in your diet and frequently feel ill, gluten may be the culprit. Gluten may depress IgA antibodies. (Ontiveros et al., 2015)
IgA antibodies are found primarily in the gastrointestinal tract as well as in saliva. They function to protect the body from viruses and other potential pathogens. When a gluten intolerance suppresses your level of IgG antibodies, it makes you more vulnerable to illness.
Unexplained Weight Fluctuations
If you’re noticing an unexplained loss or gain in weight, this could be a sign of an underlying health condition. For some people, gluten intolerance can cause inflammatory weight gain.
On the other hand, it may impair the function of your thyroid gland, leading to hyperthyroidism, which can cause weight loss.
Canker sores (mouth ulcers) are small lesions that can develop anywhere in the soft tissue of the gums, mouth, and tongue. They can be painful and make eating or talking uncomfortable. They typically resolve on their own.
A 2009 study published in BMC Gastroenterology indicated a link between gluten intolerance and frequent canker sores. (Shakeri, 2009)
Because of malabsorption issues, people with gluten intolerance often have low calcium levels. This can mean an increased risk of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a disease which causes weakened and brittle bones, making them fragile and easily fractured.
If you suffer from gluten intolerance and are over the age of 45, you may want to talk to your doctor about getting a DEXA scan. This scan is designed to measure your bone density and will tell you if you are a high risk for osteoporosis. Its diagnosis can help you determine if you need to take a calcium supplement.
Gluten intolerance often goes hand-in-hand with certain skin conditions, such as hives, rosacea, eczema, psoriasis, and dermatitis. This is thought to be because gluten triggers inflammation in the gut, which in turn causes an immune response, which then releases IgA antibodies.
When IgA levels are raised, and it travels to the skin, these antibodies can bind with an epidermal transglutaminase protein, triggering a skin reaction. (Celiac, 2019)
A particular skin condition associated with gluten intolerance is Dermatitis Herpetiformis (DH). Also known as Duhring’s disease, DH is a chronic skin condition that affects between 10 and 15% of people who have Celiac disease. It can sometimes affect people with severe gluten intolerance. (Celiac, 2019)
This condition results in patches of itchy, red blisters, or bumps on the skin. Typically, the rash occurs on the forearms, elbows, buttocks, and knees. It can also occur around the hairline. DH usually resolves when gluten is eliminated from the diet.
Although medical experts are not entirely sure what causes fatigue in cases of gluten intolerance, it is one of the most commonly reported symptoms. People who suffer from non-celiac gluten intolerance do not have the damage to the small intestine that occurs with celiac disease, so malnutrition and anemia do not explain fatigue in these cases.
The best way to combat fatigue in the case of gluten intolerance is to try to maintain a regular sleep pattern, take naps when needed, and get moderate exercise daily.
Muscle and Joint Pain
Joint pain can be misdiagnosed as arthritis. But if you suffer from a gluten intolerance, you may experience aches in your muscles and joints. Medical experts believe that this happens because gluten can cause inflammation and increased intestinal permeability. Because of the gut-joint axis, this may lead to recurrent flare-ups of swelling and pain in the joints and muscles.
This symptom often resolves after you eliminate gluten from your diet and address any other relevant factors such as nutrient deficiencies.
Gluten intolerance can cause a wide range of symptoms, some of which may be misdiagnosed. To assess whether your symptoms are caused by gluten sensitivity or by another underlying cause, your doctor may recommend an elimination diet.
If you do have a gluten intolerance, most of these symptoms will resolve once you adopt a gluten-free diet and work on gut repair.