Gluten Intolerance Symptoms Checklist
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What is gluten, and why should we be concerned about its effect on our health? Well, the simple answer to the first part of the question is that gluten is a protein composite found in grains. The most widely-known source of gluten is wheat, but it is also found in rye, barley, spelt and some other grains. If you’ve ever made bread, you’ll know that when you add water to flour, the mixture gets sticky, that’s due to the gluten. It’s the gluten that allows bread dough to stretch. There are two proteins that make up gluten, gliadin, and glutenin, and it’s the gliadin that causes health problems for some people.
The New England Journal of Medicine lists 55 diseases which are directly linked to eating gluten. There is a wide range of symptoms and conditions associated with gluten. Everything from fatigue to osteoporosis, bowel disease, and skin sores can be put down to eating a seemingly innocuous protein found in on the basics of the modern diet, bread, and pasta.
Needless to say with so many diseases linked to gluten, intolerance to the protein is a common problem. However, lots of people don’t realize their symptoms are associated with eating gluten. In its most severe form, gluten intolerance is seen as celiac disease. This is an autoimmune disease which affects about 1% of the population, and in severe cases can lead to damage to the digestive system. Studies have shown that as many as 10% of the population has some form of gluten sensitivity that causes them problems. As many of these issues have nothing to do with the digestion, it’s sometimes difficult to pinpoint the cause as being a diet that included gluten.
Here is a list of the most common signs a person has some degree of gluten intolerance.
You’ve just eating, and your belly feels swollen and full of gas, what should have been a lovely meal has turned into feeling miserable and down. It is very common to feel bloated after a meal, and it could be that you just ate too much, but it is also a sign of gluten intolerance. It is one of the most common symptoms reported by people who have a gluten sensitivity. One clinical study has reported that almost 90% of people who have non-celiac gluten sensitivity experience a degree of bloating after a meal.
2. Constipation & diarrhea
Everyone is used to getting constipated or suffering from diarrhea from time to time. It is all part of the way our bodies function, but if it is happening on a regular basis, then it can be cause for concern. It is another of the common symptoms of gluten intolerance. Those who suffer from celiac disease experience inflammation of the gut after consuming gluten. Any damage to the lining of the gut can lead to poorer absorption of nutrients, which in turn leads to digestive discomfort and frequent bouts of diarrhea or constipation. More than half the people who report they have a gluten sensitivity experience diarrhea, and about a quarter report constipation. If the diarrhea is prolonged in any way, it can have serious health implications due to the loss of electrolytes, dehydration, and the onset of fatigue.
Headaches and migraines are probably one of the most frequent ailments people suffer. The more intense migraines are experienced by about 10-12% of the population regularly. Studies have shown that if one is gluten intolerant you are more likely to be prone to migraine attacks. If you are one of those people who get regular headaches or migraines, with no apparent cause, then it could be a sign you have a sensitivity to gluten.
4. Abdominal pain
The most common symptom of gluten intolerance is abdominal pain. More than four out of five people with a gluten sensitivity report they have abdominal pain, or at least discomfort, after eating something containing gluten.
Every one of us feels tired at some time or another. An overwhelming feeling of tiredness can be attributed to many diseases which can be the underlying cause. If an individual is gluten intolerant they are likely to be prone to bouts of fatigue or tiredness, especially after eating something that contains gluten. Medical studies have shown that between two-thirds and three-quarters of gluten-intolerant people commonly experience symptoms of some form of tiredness. Gluten sensitivity is known to cause anemia, which is an iron deficiency, which in turn can cause a person to feel listless, with a lack of energy and an overwhelming state of tiredness.
6. Anemia due to iron deficiency
Iron-deficiency anemia can be one of the first signs a person has celiac disease, the most severe form of gluten intolerance. About 5% of American women and 2% of American men suffer from iron-deficiency anemia as it is the most common nutrient deficiency in the world. A lack of iron causes symptoms such as fatigue, low blood levels, shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness, general weakness, and sometimes a paler skin. The celiac disease prevents nutrient absorption in the large intestine, and thus reduces the amount of iron being absorbed from food. It is this anemia that doctors often first relate to people suffering from celiac disease.
7. Skin problems
Blistering of the skin is one of the leading symptoms for those suffering from celiac disease, the severest form of gluten sensitivity. It is much more of an indicator than say, digestive symptoms, which only manifest themselves in about 10% of patients. There are a number of skin conditions which show a marked improvement when the patient is on a gluten-free diet. They are psoriasis, the inflammatory skin disease that is characterized by reddening of the skin and scaling. Alopecia areata, which is an autoimmune disease that results in hair loss, and chronic urticaria, which is known for its recurring, pink and red lesions which are often very itchy.
People who have problems with their digestion, appear to be more prone to depression and anxiety. It is notable among those who suffer from celiac disease. Depression affects about 6% of adults every year, and it is not known how many of these are related to gluten intolerance. There are a number of theories on how depression is driven by gluten sensitivity. It could be that gluten imbalance the serotonin levels in the body. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that allows cells to communicate and has been described as the ‘happiness’ hormone. It is known that the gluten exorphin peptides are formed when some gluten proteins are digested.
It is suggested that these peptides may inhibit the central nervous system and increase the risk of depression. It is also being investigated whether the microbiota in the gut may be a cause of depression. When harmful bacteria outweighs the good bacteria in the stomach, it may affect the central nervous system. People who suffer from depression report that sticking to a gluten-free diet makes them feel better about themselves, no matter if they have digestive problems or not.
9. Weight loss
Two-thirds of the people diagnosed with celiac disease report they experience weight loss in the six months previous. Losing weight can have a number of reasons, and the unexplained weight loss is seen as a common side effect of the worst cases of gluten intolerance.
10. Muscle & joint pain
Those with a gluten sensitivity may experience inflammation in their joints and muscles due to their exposure to the protein. The latest medical theories suggest there is a genetically pre-determined over-sensitivity in the nervous system to those with celiac disease. It would, therefore, be logical to assume that those with a lesser gluten intolerance would experience similar symptoms, although not at such a marked level. Therefore, those with a gluten sensitivity could experience widespread muscle pain and aching joints.
11. Numbness in the arms and legs
Studies have shown that those with gluten intolerance or celiac disease have a greater risk of experiencing numbness in the legs and arms. The numbness, known as neuropathy, is common in people with diabetes or have a deficiency in vitamin B12. The exact link has yet to be established, but the current thinking involves ties between the neuropathy and the presence of antibodies related to gluten sensitivity.
About a third of people worldwide experience some form of anxiety. It can have a number of forms such as worry, unease, agitation, and nervousness, and is apparently linked to depression. Studies have shown that those with gluten sensitivity are more prone to anxiety and panic attacks. About two-in-five for 40% of the people who report they have a gluten intolerance say they also experience regular bouts of anxiety.
13. A foggy brain
If you can’t think straight, or find yourself forgetful and have difficulty concentrating, this is often described as ‘brain fog.’ Having this foggy mind is commonly found in people who have gluten intolerance. About 40% of those who report gluten sensitivity say they experience cloudy thinking and have mental fatigue. Researchers have not yet discovered the exact reason why this should be, but they are looking into possible links involving a reaction of antibodies in the gluten.
To sum it up. There are a number of symptoms that are associated with gluten intolerance. However, they are mostly very common and can be linked to other disorders very easily. If you experience many of them regularly, with no apparent cause, then you could be having an adverse reaction to the gluten in your diet. It is best to consult a medical professional should you think you have a gluten intolerance. However, removing gluten from your diet for a short period, and seeing if it has an effect on the symptoms would be a wise approach.