Gluten, the protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, generally does not present any problems for most people, but it can result in some serious health issues for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. Celiac disease is reported to affect about 1 percent of the population, but up to 13 percent of the population may have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. While the two are distinct conditions, celiac and non-celiac gluten sensitivities typically present the same symptoms. Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms of gluten intolerance.
1. Digestive Issues
Digestion issues are the most prominent symptom of gluten intolerance. This includes diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and abdominal pain. When you have a gluten intolerance, your body is unable to properly process gluten. The gluten damages the gut lining, contributing to an overactive immune response that results in the digestive issues.
Occasional instances of diarrhea or constipation are relatively normal, but with a gluten intolerance, digestive issues can seem like a daily occurrence due to the prevalence of gluten in everyday foods. People with gluten intolerance may have feces that are pale and more foul-smelling than normal as a result of poor nutrient absorption. Bloating is typically associated with eating a large quantity of food, but if you are gluten sensitive, you can experience bloating from eating even a small amount of gluten-containing food.
2. Skin Problems
Keratosis pilaris, also known as “chicken skin,” is a generally harmless skin condition that is characterized by small bumps and dry, rough patches affecting the upper arms, cheeks, thighs, and buttocks. In those with gluten sensitivities, keratosis pilaris tends to come as a result of deficiencies in fatty acids and vitamin A caused by fat malabsorption. Gluten damages the villi lining the inside of the small intestines. These villi are small, finger-like projections that work to break down and absorb vitamins and minerals. When the villi wear down, the body is unable to absorb nutrients properly, resulting in potential deficiencies.
Celiac disease most often manifests on the skin in the form of dermatitis herpetiformis. This is characterized by chronic blistering skin that is intensely itchy. Other potential skin problems caused by gluten intolerance include:
- Chronic urticaria
- Alopecia areata
Feeling tired or fatigued may not seem out of the ordinary and can be caused by a variety of other health issues. However, if you find yourself feeling especially tired or fatigued or experiencing brain fog after eating a food containing gluten, you may have a gluten sensitivity. Gluten intolerance may cause iron-deficiency anemia as a result of poor nutrient absorption. Anemia naturally contributes to feeling tired and lacking energy.
4. Headaches and Migraines
Headaches and migraines are another relatively normal part of everyday life, but some studies suggest that people who are gluten intolerant are more prone to headaches than others.
5. Sudden Weight Loss
A combination of digestive issues and poor nutrient absorption may lead to sudden fluctuations in body weight.
How to Test for Gluten Intolerance
As you can see, most of the above symptoms are fairly common and can be caused by a number of different underlying issues. The best way to test for gluten intolerance on your own is with an elimination diet. This means eliminating gluten from your entire diet for at least two to three weeks and then reintroducing gluten as normal. If you feel significantly healthier off of gluten or find yourself getting sicker when you start eating gluten again, you may have a gluten intolerance.
However, it should be noted that gluten is a large, long-chain protein. It can take months or even years to completely work gluten out of your system, so even an elimination diet may not be completely conclusive. If you want to know for sure if you are gluten intolerant, it’s best to see your doctor. While there is currently no known blood test to identify gluten sensitivity specifically, doctors do have tests for celiac and can help to rule out other common food allergies. While at-home test kits are available, stay wary of using them to diagnose gluten sensitivity. They do not use testing methods approved by any clinical authorities and are notorious for giving false positives.
If you believe you have a gluten sensitivity, consider taking a supplement, like Colostrum-LD®, that may help to heal your intestinal lining and reduce symptoms.