Non-celiac gluten sensitivity has been coined to describe those individuals who cannot tolerate gluten and experience symptoms similar to those with celiac disease but yet who lack the same antibodies and intestinal damage as seen in celiac disease.
Early research suggests that non-celiac gluten sensitivity is an innate immune response, as opposed to an adaptive immune response (such as autoimmune) or allergic reaction.
Signs of Gluten Intolerance
Your blood test for celiac disease came back negative. Now what? If you have been suffering symptoms that seem related to gluten, it may be possible that you have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Here are 12 signs of gluten intolerance.
Headaches are symptoms of so many medical problems. Migraines that are combined with daily diarrhea, a low iron count and a skin rash paint a different picture. And if your migraine starts within an hour or two of ingesting food that contains gluten, it’s highly indicative of a non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
2. Depression and Anxiety
Depression is a serious health concern for many people. Symptoms of depression can include feelings of hopelessness, lack of interest, low energy, appetite changes, sleep changes, anger, and more. Some patients do require medication to correct persistent imbalances with depression. However, often underlying causes of depression are not investigated.
Research now confirms that Celiac disease and gluten intolerance are linked to depression, anxiety and mood disorders. Once gluten is removed from the diet in the gluten sensitive, depression and anxiety can actually be resolved.
Symptoms of anxiety often go hand in hand with depression which makes it very hard to relax and think clearly. Some may experience sensations of panic, loss of control, heart racing, chest pains, trouble breathing or feelings of passing out. Anxiety attacks can even mimic heart attacks so it’s important to be aware of the distinction.
3. Gastrointestinal Symptoms
Signs of gluten intolerance can present in various parts of your body, but gastrointestinal issues are some of the most common symptoms, especially in infants and children. Examples include abdominal pain, gas, bloating, diarrhea, decreased appetite, constipation, nausea and vomiting. Because many of these gastrointestinal symptoms are present in other conditions and diseases, such as Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, lactose intolerance, diverticulitis and inflammatory bowel disease, diagnosing gluten intolerance can be challenging.
Individuals often present with different sets of symptoms, making diagnosis even more difficult. One person may present with constipation and bloating, while another may present with intermittent diarrhea or no gastrointestinal symptoms at all.
4. Brain Fog
Being unable to think clearly is just as stifling as it sounds. When you feel disconnected or just plain “out of it”, it might not be all in your head.
Gluten can have the affect known as “foggy brain” in sensitive individuals. While it can be difficult to quantify gluten induced “brain fog”, researchers in a 2002 study in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry found that there may be significant cross reactivity of IgG antibodiesto gluten and other different antibodies that could result in mental fogginess. These antibodies can also cause inflammation which can further exacerbate the condition.
5. Keratosis Pilaris
Also known as ‘chicken skin’ on the back of your arms. This tends be as a result of a fatty acid deficiency and vitamin A deficiency secondary to fat-malabsorption caused by gluten damaging the gut.
Some medical experts believe fibromyalgia is a symptom, not a disease. Inflammation of the connective tissue is one of the strongest signs of gluten intolerance. Essentially, the body thinks gluten is an enemy and will send out antibodies to destroy it. Those antibodies destroy the lining of the stomach and intestines. Just like with joint pain, the inflammation could present itself in any part of the body. If a doctor told you that you have fibromyalgia, try eliminating gluten and see how you feel.
7. Extreme Fatigue
Do you feel like you can never sleep enough? Even if you’re getting an adequate amount of sleep each night, waking up feeling exhausted means that something’s up. Gluten can contribute to feelings of sluggishness and tiredness in several different ways. When your body is in a state of inflammation and spending resources dealing with gluten proteins, it’s at the expense of available energy stores and normal bodily processes.
8. Neurological Symptoms
Some people with this intolerance start experiencing different neurological symptoms that can really inhibit their ability to function. Things like feeling off balance, a reduction in coordination and episodes of dizziness can all occur. These generally happen within about an hour after eating a meal that contains gluten.
9. Autoimmune Diseases
Because inflammation and prolonged exposure to gluten can put the body on high alert, autoimmune diseases frequently develop in people who are intolerant to gluten. These diseases include lupus, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, scleroderma, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and multiple sclerosis.
10. Hormonal Issues
Different hormonal issues may occur as a result of a gluten intolerance. Research is currently looking at the possible relationship between these intolerance and polycystic ovarian syndrome, premenstrual syndrome and unexplained fertility. It is thought that if someone has issues with gluten that these issues could get worse, especially when gluten is consumed.
Dermatitis herpetiformis may occur if you have gluten intolerance. Antibodies released from gluten ingestion deposit under the first layer of skin, causing groups of watery, itching blisters. This condition may be the only sign of gluten intolerance in some people. Symptoms include patches of itchy skin that are often painful to the touch. The rash may develop into raised areas of skin that turn into small, watery blisters that are intensely itchy.
Skin problems commonly develop on the elbows, knees, buttocks, face, scalp and shoulders. If you experience symptoms of dermatitis herpetiformis, following a gluten-free diet is a must to prevent intestinal damage from occurring.
12. Unexplained Weight Loss or Weight Gain
For some with malabsorption and gut permeability due to gluten intolerance or sensitivity, unwanted weight loss despite regular calorie intake can have dangerous effects. On the other hand, gluten can trigger systemic inflammation in the body that mimics stubborn weight gain. Removing gluten for good and healing the gut with a healthy diet can restore weight to healthy normal levels.
How to Test for Gluten Intolerance
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is diagnosed by process of exclusion. Experts recommend that you first get tested for a wheat allergy and for celiac disease. If both of those are negative, then your doctor may recommend a gluten elimination diet. If symptoms improve on a gluten-free diet, then you likely have non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
It is very important that a knowledgeable physician oversee this entire process, which can help to omit patients self-diagnosing themselves and to reduce the likelihood of a placebo effect occurring during dietary intervention.