Gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity is when you become ill after consuming gluten(1) (a type of protein). Another term for gluten intolerance is non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Gluten is a protein found in most foods, especially barley, wheat, rye, and other grains. Gluten can also be found in foods and drinks like pasta, cereals, and beer. It can also be found in vitamins, cosmetics, and some medications.
The most potential causes of gluten intolerance are; wheat allergy, celiac disease, and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. All these forms of gluten intolerance can cause various symptoms, none of which have anything to do with the digestive tract.
Gluten intolerance is frequently mistaken for celiac disease, but these two are different conditions. Celiac disease is a severe autoimmune disease (a form of gluten intolerance) that causes damaging effects on a person’s digestive system. It affects at least 1%of the population.
Gluten intolerance doesn’t affect your gastrointestinal tract, and it also is less severe than celiac disease or wheat allergy.
Symptoms of gluten intolerance
These symptoms mostly occur shortly after consuming gluten, and the combinations of these symptoms vary from person to person.
Diarrhea and constipation
People with gluten intolerance suffer from frequent diarrhea and constipation. Suffering from both from time to time is normal. But when it keeps recurring, that should be a sign of underlying issues. When you are sensitive to gluten, studies show that it can trigger digestive problems. Data (2) shows that over 50% of gluten-intolerant individuals experience diarrhea while 25% experience constipation.
Constipation is a digestive condition that results in stool that is hard, difficult, and painful to pass. Most of the time, constipation is a result of a bad diet and lack of exercise. But when you’re suffering from gluten sensitivity, it is a common problem. Diarrhea, on the other hand, is when stool is loose and frequent. When you are suffering from gluten intolerance, diarrhea results from your body’s inability to absorb nutrients from food.
Bloating or Gas
Most gluten intolerant individuals report frequently feeling bloated. Bloating is the feeling of a swollen belly or a stomach full of gas which is uncomfortable and lasting. Bloating is among the most common (3) concerns among gluten-sensitive or intolerant individuals. In a study (4), 87% of people with gluten sensitivity experience bloating.
Bloating causes abnormal swelling in your abdomen, which will keep you feeling full or tight. This feeling is very uncomfortable, and it comes with pain too. Also, if gluten causes you to have gas in your belly, this could lead to bloating.
Even though abdominal pain can have various causes, gluten intolerant people report feeling abdominal pain frequently after consuming food that contains gluten. 83% of people (4) with gluten intolerance have abdominal pain after consuming food rich in gluten. Most of the time, abdominal pain comes with diarrhea, bloating, and gas.
Headaches are very common as they affect everyone once in a while. In the U.S, migraines affect approximately 1 in 6 adults (5). Even with migraines being so common, studies (6) show that gluten intolerant people are more prone to experience them than others.
People with gluten intolerance are 2.7 times more likely to have headaches than those who didn’t suffer from gluten intolerance. Most patients with gluten intolerance get unexplained migraines that come with fatigue.
Tiredness is a common feeling, but once it becomes too recurrent, you should explore underlying issues. Once a gluten-intolerant individual has consumed gluten, they experience a lot of fatigue and tiredness (7).
Fatigue is a persistent, overwhelming feeling of tiredness or exhaustion, resulting in a decreased capacity for physical and mental work. While fatigues are fairly common, fatigue isn’t caused by inadequate sleep or rest in people with gluten intolerance. Sometimes the fatigue can be relieved by a gluten-free diet.
Depression and Anxiety
Anxiety includes feelings of worry, agitation, unease, and nervousness. Anxiety often pairs with depression. Anxiety disorders are common as they affect approximately 33% (8) of the worldwide population. In one study, 40% of participants (4) with gluten intolerance explained that they dealt with anxiety regularly. Gluten exposure alone contributes to feelings of depression. Several studies (9) so far have shown that people with self-reported gluten intolerance feel better after cutting off gluten from their diets, even if their digestive problems weren’t completely resolved.
Joint and Muscle Pain
When you are gluten intolerant, consuming gluten causes inflammation. This inflammation leads to pain in the joints and muscles. When you are gluten sensitive, the chances are that you are more likely to experience numbness (10) in your arms and legs.
Trouble concentrating or Brain Fog
48% (11) of gluten-intolerant individuals experience a “foggy mind.” They frequently experience forgetfulness and find it hard to pay attention. Brain fog is a feeling that the process of thinking, remembering, and understanding is not working as it should.
After consuming food with gluten, those with gluten intolerance tend to experience nausea. Even though nausea has various causes, it is a common symptom in gluten-intolerant individuals. When you are gluten intolerant, ingesting gluten foods damages the villi in your small intestines. Villi are microscopic finger-like projections that are necessary for the absorption and digestion of nutrients. Damage to the villi can be reversed by adherence to a gluten-free diet which could take upto a few weeks.
Gluten intolerance can cause a lot of comfort in your body, and having an intolerance test can help you figure out what foods you are intolerant to and avoid them. Gluten intolerance is linked to IBS (12), which causes many problems to your health and quality of life. If you have gluten intolerance diagnosed in time, it will help you figure out which meals to avoid and quantities of gluten your body can take before it gives in.