Gluten refers to a group of proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye. Gluten acts like a glue that helps food maintain its shape, and it also gives elasticity to bread dough, helps it rise, and gives bread its chewy texture. For people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, gluten triggers an immune system reaction that damages the intestine. Doctors estimate that 1% of the population has celiac disease, while about 15% has gluten sensitivity. Even people who don’t have celiac disease may display intestinal or immune system reactions to gluten. Because of its similar symptoms, celiac disease is sometimes misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). While no medical test for gluten intolerance currently exists, you can take several steps to recognize gluten intolerance in your body and start down the road to a healthier future.
Pay attention to your energy level after you eat foods containing gluten.
Occasionally, energy levels may dip slightly after consuming a large meal, while your body works to digest the food.
Because gluten intolerant individuals have to work harder to try to fight the effects in the digestive tract, they commonly feel fatigue after eating.
Unlike the occasional normal post-meal lethargy that may occur from time to time, people suffering from gluten intolerance may be completely exhausted after their meals.
Examine your mental and emotional state after eating wheat products.
Many individuals suffering from gluten intolerance complain of irritability after eating.
Irritability may be related to fatigue or can occur as a result of feeling run down in general, similar to how one feels when sick with a cold or flu.
Some people with gluten intolerance report having a “foggy mind” right after they eat. In other words, they easily lose their train of thought and find concentration difficult.
Notice when headaches develop after a meal.
Headache symptoms are non-specific, and can mimic migraines, tension headaches or cluster headaches. While there is no specific type of headache associated with gluten intolerance, the headache pattern consistently occurs within 30 minutes to an hour after eating for many individuals.
Observe changes in your extremities.
Often, people with gluten intolerance experience joint pain, and they sometimes experience numbness or tingling in their arms and legs.
Watch for symptoms associated with poor digestive health.
While people with gluten sensitivity tend to have more non-gastrointestinal symptoms than people with celiac, they can still experience GI discomfort. After a meal, they may experience abdominal bloating and pain, gas, diarrhea, vomiting, constipation and foul-smelling stools.
Some people may also experience symptoms such as anemia, fatigue, weight loss, osteoporosis, mouth ulcers, skin rashes, or tingling in the hands and feet.
Make note of fluctuations in weight.
Gluten sensitivities are most notably associated with weight loss and malnutrition, but gluten intolerance can also result in unexplained weight gain over time.
Some children may also develop problems with their teeth because of malnutrition related to their gluten intolerance.
Pay attention to prolonged changes in mental status.
The onset of depression, poor memory, difficulty concentrating, irritability, behavioral changes or mood fluctuations can be caused by gluten intolerance. Include all details associated with your mental symptoms, including the severity of your symptoms and how often they occur.
Keep detailed notes about any rashes that develop, including eczema.
Some people with gluten intolerance may develop itchy, burning rashes that appear in clusters on the elbows, knees, or back. These rashes may eventually scab over.
If you notice one of these rashes developing, take a photo of it and send it to your healthcare provider. They may be able to tell you if it is a characteristic gluten intolerance rash.
Keep track of women’s health issues.
Women with gluten sensitivity or intolerance may develop issues such as irregular menstrual cycles, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), severe menstrual cramping, miscarriage and infertility. Some doctors now routinely investigate the possibility of a gluten sensitivity in couples who are unsuccessfully trying to conceive and are suffering from unexplained infertility.
Make an appointment with your doctor to check for a gluten allergy.
Gluten allergy is 1 of 2 severe forms of gluten intolerance, along with celiac disease. Symptoms include itching, swelling and irritation around or in the mouth; itchy rash or hives; nasal congestion and itchy eyes; problems with the teeth (especially in small children); cramps, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea; wheezing, difficulty breathing and anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction which may cause low blood pressure and swelling of the face, tongue, and airways).
Gluten allergies are most common in children and are usually—but not always—outgrown by the age of 5. A skin test or blood test can identify gluten allergies.
Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency and can be fatal, so call emergency services immediately if it develops.
Ask your doctor if you might have celiac disease.
Celiac disease is an immune reaction that progressively destroys the nutrient-absorbing villi in your small intestine. Your body may not absorb nutrients properly, and your small intestine can become permeable, meaning that its contents leak into your gut. Celiac disease can be identified with a blood test and an intestinal biopsy.If tests for both gluten allergy and celiac disease are negative and you suspect you may be sensitive to gluten, a gluten intolerance or sensitivity may be the underlying cause. Unfortunately, there is no test to confirm or rule out gluten sensitivity. It has to be diagnosed on the basis of your symptoms.
Speak with your doctor about tests for conditions related to gluten intolerance.
Although the tests cannot confirm a sensitivity to gluten, they can confirm the presence of some conditions that commonly occur as a result of gluten intolerance. Some related conditions include:
Low iron levels
Fat in the stool
Poor dental health (problems with the teeth) due to malnourishment
Poor calcium absorption
Delayed growth in children
Eliminate all gluten-containing foods from your diet for 2 to 4 weeks.
Be on the lookout for hidden sources of gluten in salad dressings, condiments, soups, sauces, and even cosmetics. Even vitamins and supplements can contain gluten. Always check ingredient labels on all food and cosmetic products.
Keep a symptom tracker journal during the elimination period.
Use the journal to note any changes that occur over the course of the diet. Revisit the symptoms pages and notice whether any of the listed symptoms have improved or disappeared since eliminating gluten from your diet.
Reintroduce gluten into your diet after the elimination period has ended.
Pay attention to how you feel when you begin eating gluten again. If vanished symptoms return after you reintegrate gluten and you feel worse than you did when you were on the elimination diet, you may have confirmed a gluten intolerance.
If you confirm your gluten intolerance after re-introducing gluten into your diet, you will have to re-eliminate gluten-containing foods from your diet.
permanently if you have a likely gluten intolerance. To correct the conditions that develop as a result of a gluten intolerance, you will need to eliminate the cause and not just treat the symptoms.
Replace gluten-containing foods such as wheat, barley, rye, semolina and spelt with comparable replacements that do not contain gluten, such as arrowroot, peanut flour, quinoa, rice flour and soy flour. Try these tips from the National Institute of Health to learn what you can and can’t eat: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/celiac-disease/eating-diet-nutrition
Unlike a gluten allergy, which may improve eventually over time, a general intolerance to gluten is a permanent condition in most individuals.
permanently if you have a likely gluten intolerance.
In order to eliminate gluten from your diet, you’ll need to be aware of which foods have gluten protein in them. Gluten is particularly common in a wide variety of Western foods, including: https://celiac.org/gluten-free-living/gluten-free-foods/
Breads, crackers, muffins, cakes, and other baked goods
Pasta and pizza
Many fried and breaded foods
Some soups and processed meats
Potato chips and French fries
Some sauces and dairy products
It may even be used in certain types of cosmetics (e.g., some lipsticks) and as filler in medications.
Find out which foods contain gluten protein.
Learning which foods are safe for you when you have gluten intolerance or sensitivity can be a trial and error process. Keep a food diary and record every meal or snack (including beverages). If you ever experience troubling symptoms after a meal, note them in your diary.
Gluten-free sources of starch include potatoes, rice, corn, soy flax, and buckwheat (which, despite its name, is not a true wheat). Buckwheat can be used to make pancakes, porridges, baked goods, and pasta (such as Japanese soba noodles).
Read food labels carefully to make sure that they have not been prepared with ingredients that contain gluten proteins. For example, some corn chips contain wheat flour.
Determine what foods you can eat.