Some people experience digestive, mental, and other physical health impacts when they consume gluten-containing foods.
If you or a loved one are experiencing chronic gluten intolerance symptoms and do not know where to turn, do not ignore it and take a deeper look.
In this article, we bring you a comprehensive guide to gluten intolerance symptoms, as well as information about their classifications, celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and wheat allergy.
There are a few forms of gluten-related intolerance, such as gluten sensitivity, that can be difficult to diagnose, especially when the symptoms present overlap with other chronic conditions.
Understanding your condition, however, is the key to getting better, or perhaps helping loved ones to get better as well.
Who is Impacted?
Worldwide, celiac disease impacts about 1% of the population, and is more likely to impact men than women. Some people do not have a gluten allergy reaction until adulthood, but some experience signs of gluten allergies as children. Celiac disease is rare; in fact, more people suffer from gluten sensitivity than celiac.
According to Dr. Fasano, an esteemed researcher at the University of Maryland’s Center for Celiac Research, an estimated 6-7% of the world population has gluten sensitivity, but the number could actually be as high as 30.i
Furthermore, celiac disease is far more prevalent in people with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), with around 15% of ADHD patients testing positive for celiac disease as well.ii
Cereal types that contain gluten
While there is a long list of foods that contain gluten, the vast majority of gluten on the market originates from three primary sources:
- Wheat and similar grains, such as spelt and durum.
- Barley and derivatives, like malt.
- Rye and alcoholic derivatives, like whiskey.
Wheat, rye, and barley are the most common sources of gluten allergy reactions and are fairly widespread across diverse products.
Despite this, there are many alternatives, and many companies substitute these grains to create gluten-free friendly products.
Gluten-related Medical Conditions
Gluten allergy symptoms can be broken down into three primary diagnoses, depending on the severity of damage and impact on the body.
Consulting with a doctor or medical professional is the best way to figure out if the signs of gluten allergy fall into one of these categories.
- Celiac disease is considered the most severe of the three. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which consumption of gluten causes an immune response that inflames the small intestine, resulting in destruction of the villi, the tiny finger-like structures that are inside the small intestine.
Villi are responsible for absorption of nutrients to the bloodstream, and their destruction can result in reduced ability to absorb nutrients, which could lead to malnutrition and other health issues, including cancer.
- Non–celiac gluten sensitivity is denoted for people who show many signs of gluten intolerance, but do not present the same antibodies and intestinal damage as people who are celiac positive.
- Wheat allergies are characterized by an allergic reaction to wheat, but not gluten, making foods like barley and rye acceptable to eat.
While anaphylactic shock is incredibly rare in celiac patients, it can occur in people who have a wheat allergy, in which case, an EpiPen or other emergency epinephrine injectors may be necessary.
Celiac Disease Symptoms
The side effects of gluten appear differently in each individual. Nonetheless, there is a list of common ailments that people with celiac disease suffer if they consume gluten.
The gluten intolerance symptoms checklist includes:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Chronic diarrhea
- Stomach pain
- Abnormal stool
- Joint pain
- Irritable mood
- Sores inside the mouth
- Tingling feelings in hands and feet
In some cases, people also have gluten allergy rash reactions that emerge in the forms of acne, hives, and more serious skin issues. In the long term, gluten allergy symptoms can result in malnutrition and create larger health problems.
Over time, the toll of malnutrition on the body can damage growth and development in children, and create issues that will become relevant in old age, such as:
- Unexplained weight loss or underweight BMI
- Dental enamel defects
- Depression and anxiety
- Fertility issues and missed menstrual periods
- Delayed puberty and/or short stature
Diagnosing celiac in adults can be difficult because many symptoms of gluten intolerance in children are commonly more focused on digestive symptoms.
Furthermore, some people who have ADHD can experience worsened symptoms if they also have celiac disease, as mentioned before.
The two have been linked, showing that both adults and children living with undiagnosed celiac experience worsened symptoms that drastically improved after going on a gluten-free diet, and that celiac has a significantly higher presence in the ADHD population.iii
Celiac disease also has genetic connections, meaning that if someone tests positive for celiac, their children have a higher risk of developing the disease.
If you test positive for celiac, we recommend sharing this information with your family and blood relatives so they can be tested as well.
Complications of Celiac Disease
Celiac disease is a serious medical condition and can result in adverse health outcomes if gluten is not removed from the diet.
For people with celiac disease, gluten proteins cause an immune response that inflames the small intestine and destroys stomach villi, which are responsible for absorbing nutrients into the bloodstream.
Destruction of villi makes it more difficult for essential nutrients to be absorbed, which can impair health and lead to malnutrition.v
Malnutrition, especially in childhood, is a serious issue. In the short run, it can decrease your body’s immune response to foreign invaders, like viruses and bacteria, making you more vulnerable to illness.
An inadequate diet in childhood is also linked to developmental impacts like delayed puberty and short stature, and a higher risk of developing type 1 Diabetes later in life.
If you test positive for celiac disease, long term inflammation of the small intestine could even lead to higher cancer risk.vi
People with gluten intolerance and sensitivity have similar symptoms but do not appear to suffer the same intestinal damage present in celiac positive patients.
Treating Celiac disease
After testing positive for celiac, the treatment is simple. The only real treatment for celiac disease is starting and following a strict gluten-free diet.
We recommend buying a new toaster (and any other equipment that presents a high level of cross contamination with gluten) and deeply sanitizing cookware.
One of the first steps you can take is reading labels on existing food in your kitchen to check if it contains gluten.
Next, you will need to stock up on gluten-free products and dispose of items that could be mistaken as gluten-free to ensure you do not accidentally consume it or use it in cooking.
If you want to speed up your recovery, we recommend staying hydrated, taking probiotics, such as kombucha, and consuming foods that will support the recovery of your digestive system.
It may take a while to see the positive results of your diet, but as long as you stick to eating gluten-free, your symptoms will improve in their severity or disappear altogether, and the risk of long-term negative health complications will decrease.
Gluten Sensitivity Symptoms
The origin of this illness is not very well understood by medical professionals, and researchers are still working to find the biological cause of non-celiac gluten sensitivity symptoms. Some signs of gluten sensitivity are:
- Mental fatigue also known as “brain fog”
- Body fatigue
- Mood swings
- Abdominal pain
- Gas (Flatulence)
Some of these symptoms can contribute to worsened symptoms of ADHD, but these signs of gluten sensitivity can also be misdiagnosed as just ADHD.
While gluten sensitivity is more common than celiac disease and wheat allergy, there is no definitive clinical test for diagnosing the condition; on the other hand, symptoms can still be improved or eliminated by starting a gluten-free diet.
Wheat Allergy Symptoms
Wheat allergy symptoms are usually more prevalent in children, especially babies and toddlers, because their immune and digestive systems are not yet well developed.
Some children outgrow wheat allergies in their teenage years, but others can develop it in adulthood. Some symptoms of wheat allergy include:
- Irritation, swelling, or itching of the throat and/or mouth
- Hives, swellings, or itchy rashes on the skin
- Nasal congestion
- Difficulty breathing
- Cramps, nausea, or vomiting
Wheat allergy is different than celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity because the body reacts only to proteins found in wheat, as opposed to proteins found in the larger category of gluten.
If you believe you or a loved one may have a wheat allergy, get tested immediately, as more serious reactions can develop over time.
The good news is that if you have a wheat allergy, as opposed to celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, a wheat free diet is less restrictive than a gluten-free diet; for example, barley and rye are okay to consume.
Frequently Asked Questions:
When to see a doctor?
If you experience negative gluten side effects after consumption, we recommend getting tested for celiac disease and wheat allergy. Importantly, you must refrain from starting a gluten-free diet until after testing, as eliminating gluten beforehand can lead to false negative test results.
Still, in case the tests still come back negatively, but you are still reacting to gluten consumption, we recommend trying a gluten-free diet for at least 30 days.
Once your condition improves over the next 2-4 weeks, try consuming gluten-containing foods once again.
If you experience a negative reaction after eliminating gluten for this period of time, it suggests that you should continue with a gluten-free diet, as you are likely to have a non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Of course, if your health issues continue, despite diet changes, contact your doctor for the exploration of other health issues.
How is it diagnosed?
Both celiac disease and wheat allergy are diagnosed initially through a simple blood test and allergy panel; however, a biopsy of the small intestine is required for a definitive answer.
As of now, there is no lab test or procedure to test for non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
How long after eating gluten do symptoms start?
Depending on your condition and the previous contents of your stomach, you may begin to feel gluten side effects in about 30 minutes to 2 hours. Some people feel symptoms almost immediately, especially those who have an anaphylactic reaction. Gluten allergy skin reactions can also occur in the week following consumption.
How long does it take to remove gluten from your system?
If you are wondering how long does it take to get gluten out of your system, gluten cleanse comes in 3 timeframes. In about 2 weeks, most symptoms can drastically improve.
Around the 3-month mark, symptoms are likely to disappear entirely, and in 6 months, villi in the small intestine should have healed enough to be restored to a fully healthy level.
I had accidental gluten exposure. What to do?
If you make a mistake or unknowingly eat gluten, there are many ways to speed up your recovery!
- Flush out gluten: Taking charcoal pills or gluten exposure supplements can help your body handle the gluten.Be aware, however, that charcoal supplements can react and bind with other medications. Consult your healthcare professional before taking it.
Drink lots of water or tea (mint/peppermint and ginger) to soothe your stomach and flush out gluten particles.
- Eat smart: Consume basic foods, such as rice, potatoes, and other gluten-free foods that are easy to digest, along with other foods that are known to aid digestion.We also recommend taking probiotic supplements, eating fermented products, or drinking kombucha to revitalize gut bacteria.
- Rest, then sweat: Initially, consuming gluten may wipe out your energy, so it is best to lay down or take a bath with Epsom salt.Afterward, it is best to get active in order to reinvigorate your body and its functions.
These are the main key points to learning about celiac disease and the reasons for people going gluten-free.
Still, make sure you consult your doctor before taking any crazy diets ahead and don’t abstain yourself from taking certain proteins or vitamins that are vital for the human body.
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