Gluten Intolerance Symptoms: Stomach Problems and More
What Is Gluten, and What Does Gluten Sensitivity Mean?
Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, barley, and rye. Gluten is what makes baked goods stretchy and springy. For some people, gluten proteins irritate the lining of the small intestine, causing a myriad of symptoms which range from mild to severe. Celiac disease is the most severe form of gluten intolerance. In Celiac disease, the villi (which are little finger-like protrusions from the small intestine) get worn down, sometimes to nothing. Since having healthy villi is what allows a person to absorb nutrients, people with Celiac disease are vulnerable to severe nutritional deficiencies. There is some debate about the degree to which gluten sensitive people are also vulnerable to these deficiencies, but personally, I say why not err on the side of caution? If you think you have a gluten sensitivity, it's definitely worth your time to think about the possible risks to your short and long-term health.
Other Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance
Mouth sores (canker sores)
Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance
Most people discover that they have gluten problems or Celiac disease as a result of suffering from a range of symptoms. Symptoms of gluten intolerance can include...
- Stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation
- Gas, bloating
- Changes in weight - Gain or loss
- Skin rash
- Dermatitis herpeteformitis (an extremely itchy, blistery rash)
- Nutritional deficiencies, like anemia, B12, calcium, vitamin D, and more
- Lactose intolerance because of intestinal damage
- Moodiness or depression
- A foggy, disoriented feeling ("brain fog"
- Failure to thrive in children
Testing for Gluten Intolerance
It can be very frustrating to find an explanation for such varied symptoms. If you are having unexplained problems you should talk to your doctor about gluten sensitivity. There are blood tests that detect Celiac disease, although those tests gluten sensitivity. If you test negative for Celiac disease, you should still give the gluten-free diet a try! Celiac blood tests can also be falsely negative, so if you think gluten is the culprit, you should remain on a strict gluten-free diet. Also note-worthy is the fact that Celiac disease sometimes has NO symptoms. It is often diagnosed through a blood test given for other reasons; since autoimmune diseases frequently go together (like thyroid disease and Celiac), doctors sometimes test for a bunch at the same time.
Gluten sensitivity and Celiac disease can appear at any age, often after a traumatic event or illness. Don't write off gluten problems because of your age! Just because you were able to eat gluten for your whole life without symptoms does not mean you have not developed a problem now.
Some doctors are less than supportive when their patients start talking about gluten sensitivity. Some doctors believe that if the Celiac blood panel is negative, then gluten problems have been eliminated. Not so! If your doctor dismisses your concerns, find a new doctor! Even better, just start the gluten-free diet on your own. It's a healthy diet with no side effects, so go ahead and give it a trial period of at least a month. If you feel better, you already have your cure, no doctor needed.
My Personal Experience With Gluten Intolerance
In 2005 I had penumonia. For well over two weeks I had a miserable cough, runny nose, headache and muscle aches. It was the sickest I had ever been. I made an appointment with the doctor, but she was booked for two weeks! By the time I finally got to see her, I had mostly recovered from my flu. I had another problem though - lack of energy, shakiness, overwhelming hunger. I thought I had diabetes! The doctor took one look at me and said, "You don't have diabetes. You're fine!" That should have been a clue right there - it turns out I did not have diabetes, but I was very upset that the doctor had just brushed me off. Now I look for a doctor that actually listens to me and seeks to figure out the cause of my problems. For a few years after my flu I suffered with a bunch of mild but worrying symptoms, and after I moved to Colorado in 2007 I had a new symptom to add: Stomach aches.
My stomach aches were not awful, but they were persistent. Now I was worried about stomach-related diseases. My new doctor said: "IBS," which is short for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. But what exactly was making my bowel "irritable," I asked? "It depends on the person," replied my doctor.
I turned to the internet and found a possible reason: Gluten! I ate a gluten-free diet for a few months, felt better almost right away, and promptly stopped the diet once I felt well again. Big mistake! Soon after, I developed a flaky, eczema-like skin rash which would not go away, and started getting headaches and stomach pains again. A full year later, I turned to the gluten free diet again. Within two weeks my stomach pains were gone, and my rash disappeared! It felt like a miracle! If I eat gluten these days (accidentally), my rash reappears. It's possible to develop other food intolerances (dairy, soy and corn are pretty common) in addition to gluten intolerance, but I am crossing my fingers that doesn't happen to me.
Can Celiac Be Cured?
Celiac disease and gluten intolerance cannot be cured, but they can be controlled. A gluten-free diet for life is the only way to address gluten problems.
The gluten-free diet may seem impossibly difficult at first glance, but it's really not. It's true, however, that a gluten-free diet takes a little more planning than a typical diet. You will need to bring meals and snacks with you when you leave the house, for example, unless you are sure you can find a gluten-free option while you are out and about. If better budgeting is also one of your goals, however, a gluten-free diet could be a wonderful inspiration! Packing your own lunches and cooking dinner at home is a tried-and-true way to save money. These days, special diets are becoming the rule rather than the exception, so you don't need to worry about coming across as a paranoid health nut.
What Foods Are Gluten-Free?
The following foods are naturally gluten free:
- Grains: Rice, corn, quinoa, millet, buckwheat
- All vegetables
- All fruits
- All meats
- All cheeses
All foods in their natural state (i.e. unprocessed and not found in a box or a bag) are gluten-free except wheat, barley and rye. Once you venture into the world of packaged foods, read ingredient labels very carefully. A gluten-free diet can be a fantastic springboard into a life of healthy, natural, unprocessed foods.