Gluten is a type of protein found in wheat, rye and barley. If a person has gluten intolerance or sensitivity, this protein can cause several symptoms that improve when gluten is eliminated from the diet.
Gluten intolerance is sometimes confused with celiac disease, and the terms are often used interchangeably.
While gluten intolerance is described as an allergic reaction to gluten in the digestive tract, celiac disease is an inherited autoimmune disorder in which gluten leads to intestinal inflammation and long-term damage to the small intestine.
Because gluten is the common trigger, the symptoms of gluten sensitivity and celiac disease are quite similar.
People who are gluten intolerant suffer from a plethora of symptoms upon ingesting gluten. The symptoms can appear right after eating a meal and go away relatively quickly. At times, symptoms can last for several days and may even become chronic.
Since there is currently no test for gluten intolerance or sensitivity, the only way to be diagnosed is to have testing to rule out celiac disease as the cause of the symptoms.
Here are the top 10 signs and symptoms of gluten intolerance.
1. Recurring Headaches or Migraines
If you get a headache or migraine regularly within a couple of hours of eating food that contains gluten, it could be a sign of gluten intolerance.
In a 2001 study, American Academy of Neurology researchers found that gluten in the diet may be the cause of recurring headaches.
A subsequent 2012 study published in Neurology, the official journal of the American Academy of Neurology, found that people suffering from celiac disease, gluten sensitivity or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) often suffer from migraine headaches.
In this study, 502 patients were examined and 30 percent of patients with celiac disease, 56 percent of patients with gluten sensitivity and 23 percent of patients with IBD experienced chronic headaches.
In addition to gluten, other common food triggers for headaches are sugar, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, cheese, processed meats and artificial sweeteners.
2. Gastrointestinal Problems
People sensitive to gluten often suffer from gastrointestinal problems upon consuming gluten in any form. This may include gas, bloating, heartburn, abdominal cramping, diarrhea or constipation.
A 2004 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition notes that celiac disease causes a wide range of gastrointestinal symptoms and patients can get rid of the symptoms quickly with a gluten-free diet.
A 2013 study published in Gastroenterology Hepatology found that gastrointestinal and non-gastrointestinal symptoms develop following the ingestion of wheat in some people suffering from celiac disease or food allergies.
If you experience gastrointestinal problems after eating anything that contains gluten, consult your doctor.
3. Chronic or Extreme Fatigue
Fatigue, especially after eating your meal can be a sign of gluten intolerance. In gluten sensitive people, gluten can prevent the proper absorption of nutrients.
Furthermore, people who are not aware of their condition and continue to eat gluten. This causes irritation to the intestinal lining which in turn hinders proper nutrient absorption.
Due to lack of proper absorption of nutrients, the different body organs of the body are deprived of the nourishment they need. Moreover, eating too much simple carbohydrate at one time can also make one tired and lethargic.
Even hormonal changes in the body due to gluten sensitivity can make one tired and fatigued.
4. Emotional Changes and Issues
People who are sensitive to gluten often experience anxiety and depression symptoms, such as feeling hopeless, lack of interest, low energy, panic attacks, appetite changes, feelings of loss of control, sleep changes, anger and more. Chronic irritability and sudden, irrational mood shifts can also be noticed.
Gluten sensitivity causes the immune system to attack its tissues, thus leading to inflammation of the nervous system. In fact, gluten even interferes with absorption of the amino acid tryptophan, which is responsible for feelings of relaxation.
A 2014 study published in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics notes that gluten may cause depression in people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity. The study also reports that patients feel better on a gluten-free diet despite the continuation of gastrointestinal symptoms.