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Are You Gluten Intolerant?

Updated on July 2, 2014
Amber waves of grain no more.
Amber waves of grain no more. | Source

Are your health issues actually symptoms of gluten intolerance? It's definitely a possibility and something that may be possible to discover for yourself.

You hear a lot about gluten-free diets these days. These diets are successful in helping people to become healthier and lose weight, if necessary.

This subject causes quite a bit of controversy, mainly because we've been told for years that this product is good for you and--let's face it--we love our wheat!

Gluten-Free Diets Cost Food Manufacturers Money

Call me a conspiracy freak (I'm used to it!), but food manufacturers try desperately to discredit any claims that gluten can be unhealthy because in their eyes, gluten-free diets mean lost profits.

Think about it: a box of cereal costs pennies to manufacture, but costs four or five dollars in the market. There's a lot of money being made in the grain-based food product business! These companies are losing money as more and more people toss their Wheaties in the trash.

This goes for thousands of other products, as well. Not only cereal products. Breads, crackers, and cookies all contain gluten, but these days food manufacturers use gluten and wheat derivatives in a variety of products that extend far and wide past baked goods.

That's Too Much!

Researchers believe that this overconsumption of gluten proteins is one of the reasons that so many people are struggling with symptoms of gluten intolerance.

The other reason is that today's wheat is far removed from the strains we've eaten in years past. Dwarf wheat has been in our food supply for only the last three decades, and its proteins are nothing like those contained in other strains of wheat.

So what is the result of eating lots and lots of this polluted protein?

Testing for Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is still a fairly new discovery. It takes the average person with celiac about 11 years to finally be diagnosed because so few doctors really understand this autoimmune disease. This makes it all the more difficult to get a solid diagnosis. Many of the tests aren't conclusive, so if you don't test positive for the celiac antibodies you may still have the condition. Also, keep in mind that children under five years old have immature immune systems that won't necessarily produce enough antibodies to show up in a test.

Not only is a test for celiac often flawed, but experts in the realm of gluten intolerance say that gluten intolerance goes beyond celiac and non-celiac. In other words, there is a spectrum of gluten intolerance. Those who have very few or no symptoms of gluten intolerance sit at one end, while those who have celiac disease are at the other end. Your ability to tolerate gluten can be anywhere on that sliding scale.

Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance: Digestive Problems

Digestive problems are among the most common symptoms of gluten intolerance. For instance, those who have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are more likely to test positive for celiac disease.

If you have digestive issues that continue in spite of all you have tried to alleviate them, gluten could very well be your problem. If you have tested negative for celiac disease or you can't afford to go to the doctor to get a test done, simply try eliminating wheat for 30 days to see what happens.

{This isn't to say that getting tested isn't important. You should do whatever you can to get a conclusive diagnosis for your symptoms. But as a person who doesn't have health insurance, I'm also realistic.}

Gluten causes problems in the digestive tract as it sticks to and tears the villi, fingerlike projections that help you absorb nutrients and push food along the intestinal tract.

Those who have celiac disease suffer the most damage to these crucial microscopic helpers. But even if you don't have celiac disease you may still endure some measure of intestinal damage from these harmful proteins.

Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance: Arthritis, Allergies, Autoimmunity

Symptoms of gluten intolerance are commonly overlooked by health professionals. Digestive problems may send up a red flag, but we still tend to separate the areas of the body and forget that what we eat affects all areas of the body and mind in one way or another.

Say you eat a sandwich for lunch made with wheat bread. (This includes basically all breads, unless you're eating sprouted bread made with grains other than wheat). The gluten proteins soon reach your small intestine and begin to cause damage to the walls of your intestinal tract.

Your immune system receives the message that there's a foreign invader that needs to be eliminated. It finds the amino acid sequence of the gluten protein and sends out antibodies to attack whatever they find that contain that amino acid sequence.

Now, your body tissues are also made up of amino acids. Say your joints have an amino acid sequence that contains the pattern AABDD (this is just for illustration purposes). Your immune systems sets out to destroy the gluten protein that may also have an amino acid sequence of AABDD.

This causes the antibodies intended to attack the gluten proteins to attack your joints instead of the foreign invader. Ouch! The result: inflammation and arthritis.

When the immune system attacks healthy body tissue, this is called autoimmunity. This occurs in a variety of forms. A case of mistaken identity can cause your body's antibodies to attack not only joints, but also glands. Anyone who has thyroid issues (e.g., hypothyroid or Hashimoto's thyroiditis) should strongly consider that these issues could be symptoms of gluten intolerance.

Dr. William Davis on Modern Wheat

What About YOU?

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Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance: Depression, Autism, ADHD

Many of our psychological issues could be alleviated if health care professionals would consider the gut-brain connection more often. What you eat affects your brain, including your brain's health and the ways in which you think.

There are a couple of ways in which psychological problems from depression and anxiety to autism and schizophrenia can be symptoms of gluten intolerance. I'm not saying that a gluten-free diet is the cure for schizophrenia; I'm saying that for many, eliminating gluten can drastically reduce symptoms of even the most serious of psychological problems.

Again, not that dietary changes are a substitute for medication, although many have found this to be the case under a physician's care.

If your child has attention or behavioral issues, they could possibly be struggling with symptoms of gluten intolerance. Although you should also consider other substances as well, including MSG (and the names food manufacturers hide it under), artificial colors, flavors, and dyes.

Your body's antibodies can attack any tissue in the body. Not only joints and glands, but also the brain.

This has the potential to lead to a host of mental health issues. In case you're thinking, "Well, I have a cousin who eats a loaf of bread every day and he's the happiest person I know", remember that genetics and environmental factors play a huge role when it comes to gluten intolerance.

Don't forget that your gut has its own nervous system, containing 100 million neurons using 30 million neurotransmitters. The vagus nerve extends from your stomach to your brain and brings more information to the brain than from it.

In other words, if there are problems in your belly, you can bet that your brain is getting the message.

Know Your Glutenous Grains

Grains With Gluten
Grains Without Gluten

Things to Keep in Mind About Grains

  • Many who have celiac disease or have symptoms of gluten intolerance cannot tolerate oats. Oats contain a protein that is similar to gluten, and they're often processed in facilities that produce other gluten-containing products.
  • Grains contain plant toxins known as anti-nutrients (phytates). These toxins pull minerals--calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, and zinc--from your body. Sprouting removes most phytates, which is why sprouted grain bread is far healthier than standard whole grain bread. Keep in mind that sprouting does not remove gluten, so breads made with wheat or other glutenous grains should be avoided even if they are sprouted.

Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance: Unexplained Weight Loss or Weight Gain

Severe weight loss is a common symptom of gluten intolerance. Damage done to the intestinal villi make it difficult for your body to absorb nutrients and calories.

This may seem like a good thing to those who have difficulties losing weight, but it can actually be really bad for your health. The inability to absorb nutrients leads to nutritional deficiencies, causing a laundry list of health problems including bone loss, tooth decay, and poor immune function.

Others may have quite the opposite experience: an inability to lose weight. Wheat's polypeptides cross the blood-brain barrier to reach opiate receptors in the brain. This means that elements contained in the glutenous grain reach areas of the brain that are stimulated by drugs of abuse. This can lead to overeating, cravings, and food addiction.

Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance: Infertility

Several studies and have found that removing gluten from the diet can improve your chances of becoming pregnant. "Silent" celiac disease--celiac that doesn't affect digestion but causes other symptoms instead--has been shown to be the root cause of infertility in many women.

Irregular periods and recurrent miscarriages can also be symptoms of gluten intolerance. In fact, The Journal of Reproductive Medicine states

"Celiac disease should be suspected in females with menstrual abnormalities, infertility, and adverse pregnancy outcome."

Got Issues? Go Gluten Free!

Symptoms of gluten intolerance aren't always limited to digestive problems. Gluten's toxic protein can affect your body in a wide range of ways. If you or a loved one is experiencing mental or physical health problems that are otherwise unexplained, try a gluten-free diet for 30 days to see if gluten intolerance could be the issue.

© Liz Davis 2013 Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance

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    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 3 years ago from Hudson, FL

      Hi, greeneyedblondie. I'm glad your aunt finally found out about her gluten intolerance. It is unfortunate that doctors know so little about celiac and gluten intolerance, but since there's no medication to cure it (only a gluten-free diet) most of conventional medicine is ignorant of the signs.

    • profile image

      greeneyedblondie 3 years ago

      I have and aunt that's gluten intolerance and it took her YEARS to find out about it. Doctors had no idea what was wrong with her. She has other problems with her health too but ever since she's found out about this issues she's living a much better and healthier life.

    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 4 years ago from Hudson, FL

      Isn't that amazing, pagesvoice? There is a similar story in the book Wheat Belly: a woman who had some sort of severe colitis was cured when she went wheat free. She had been to a variety of specialists, and they told her that she needed a colostomy. All she had to do was abstain from wheat, then she was fine.

    • pagesvoice profile image

      Dennis L. Page 4 years ago from New York/Pennsylvania border

      I have a family member who has both Crohn's disease and colitis and under their own volition started a gluten free diet. Miraculously, since going gluten free, their symptoms have waned and are feeling fine.

    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 4 years ago from Hudson, FL

      Thanks, Jill! I'm glad you're trying a wheat-free diet. Just setting a goal of 30 days makes it easier to pass by the abundance of wheat products on store shelves. It also makes it easier to measure any benefits that you enjoy as a result.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 4 years ago from United States

      One of my friends has started a wheat-free diet & has inspired me to try it, too. Enjoyed your article & shared it.

    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 4 years ago from Hudson, FL

      That's awesome, Rogene! I'm glad to hear you found the cause of your symptoms. It's amazing how damaging one little protein can be for so many people--many who will unfortunately never discover the cause of their health problems. Thanks for commenting and sharing your experience.

    • profile image

      Rogene Robbins 4 years ago

      Very well researched and written. After years of misdiagnosed health problems I experienced very quick improvement after giving up gluten. Some of the things that improved I hadn't even imagined could be related to gluten.

    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 4 years ago from Hudson, FL

      Glad to give it to you, peachpurple! Thanks for your comment.

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 4 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      didn't know there are so much differences into gluten and non gluten food. Thanks for the info.

    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 4 years ago from Hudson, FL

      Thank you, ologsinquito! I hope it helps.

    • ologsinquito profile image

      ologsinquito 4 years ago from USA

      Excellent and well-researched hub. I'm going to email this to someone I know.

    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 4 years ago from Hudson, FL

      Thanks, Bill! I tried to find something funny to say in response, but I got nothin'.

      I'm glad Bev is trying the gluten-free route. If you ever have any questions or recipe requests, I'm here for ya!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Nice job, Liz! I was going to say something funny but then I realized what a great resource this is and there really isn't anything funny about it. :)

      I'm as healthy as a horse and have never shown negative effects from gluten, but Bev has and she is starting to get into this gluten-free thing, so by association I have been eating more and more gluten-free foods.

      Again, nice job young lady!