The word Gluten is Latin for ‘glue’ and is from the family of proteins which is found in cereal grains such as wheat, rye, and barley. The protein allows the dough to be elastic and allows baked goods to rise and gives bread the chewy texture so many of us love.
Humans have been eating wheat and gluten products for at least 10,000 years yet oddly since 1950 gluten-related disorders have quadrupled and there appears no firm scientific reason why.
The increase is affecting a large number of people which is being questioned as to whether the human body should even be consuming gluten producing food.
There are questions as to whether the widespread use of GMO’s that has potentially caused our sudden increase in gluten intolerance.
Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance
Researchers believe that, of the gluten-related disorders, non-celiac gluten sensitivity is the most prevalent, affecting up to 6% of the population. It is more common in women and young to middle-aged adults.
The symptoms outlined below usually occur after eating gluten-rich foods, will subside when gluten is eliminated from the diet and will return if gluten is once again consumed:
- Digestive Issues
Occurring in 68% of cases, abdominal pain is the most common symptom of gluten intolerance. This can include one or more of the following: stomach cramping and pain, feeling bloated and gassy, diarrhea, nausea, and constipation.
- Skin Problems
Inflamed and irritated skin is another sign of gluten sensitivity, occurring in about 40% of patients. It may manifest itself as eczema (red, itchy, dry skin) or erythema (rashes, bumps, and lesions).
- Chronic Headaches
Sudden intense throbbing or pulsing pain in one area of your head after eating is also indicative of sensitivity to gluten.
- Unexplained Fatigue
When the body isn’t properly absorbing vitamins and nutrients from food, this can often lead to chronic fatigue.
On the opposite side, a sensitivity to gluten can also be marked by an unusual increase in activity: constant movement, acting impulsively or aggressively, as well as being easily distracted after consumption.
Nutrient deficiencies are not an uncommon side effect of gluten intolerance and anemia – or an iron deficiency – co-occurs in about 20% of people who are unable to properly digest gluten.
Loss of interest, feelings of hopelessness, low energy, changes in sleep, mood swings, and anxiety have been linked to people suffering from gluten intolerance.
- Bone and Joint Pain
Eating gluten-laden foods when you have sensitivity can cause inflammation to rear its ugly head and cause a myriad of aches and pains throughout the body.
- Brain Fog
A type of mental fatigue, the “clouding of consciousness” denotes a decline in awareness of oneself and one’s environment in the mind. Inattentiveness, forgetfulness, confusion, and an inability to “think straight” are among the signs of this mild cognitive impairment.
- Numbness in Hands and Feet
Temporarily losing feeling in the hands or feet on occasions where pressure on nerves causes a part of the body to “fall asleep” is perfectly normal. However, in 20% of cases of gluten intolerance, numbness in the body’s extremities persists and has no obvious cause.
- Muscle Spasms
Malabsorption of minerals – particularly potassium, magnesium, and calcium – can cause sudden, involuntary muscle contractions.
Defined as a lack of muscle control during movement, ataxia is an irreversible neurological condition that affects balance and coordination. Gluten ataxia occurs when antibodies mistakenly attack the cerebellum, the part of the brain responsible for motor control. It can present itself as slurred speech, involuntary eye movements, difficulty performing fine motor skills (such as writing or buttoning a shirt), an unsteady walk, and troubles swallowing.
- Unexplained Weight Loss
Another effect of gluten intolerance is a sudden or gradual loss in body mass, despite eating habits staying the same, and is likely due to nutrient malabsorption.
- Canker Sores
Canker sores – small lesions in the inner cheek and gums – are another sign of undiagnosed celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
There is evidence that gluten sensitivity may be an underlying cause of fibromyalgia – a condition characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain, sleep disturbances, fatigue, memory and thinking impairments, and depression. A small study involving 20 fibromyalgia patients found that all symptoms improved dramatically after consuming a gluten-free diet over the course of several months. Furthermore, when eight of the patients in the study began consuming gluten when they began to feel better, they experienced a complete return of symptoms. Eliminating gluten from their diets once again brought their fibromyalgia back into remission.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) shares many of the gastrointestinal symptoms of both celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and for some patients with IBS, symptoms have improved while on a gluten-free diet. One study found that 40% of IBS patients who subsisted without gluten experienced significant reductions in abdominal pain, bloating, fatigue and had much better stool consistency.
Bear in mind that many of these symptoms are non-specific, meaning that they are not exclusive to gluten intolerance and are present in many other diseases and conditions.
If you suspect you are suffering from an intolerance to gluten, see your doctor before attempting to eliminate gluten from your diet since gluten needs to be present in your body to obtain accurate blood tests for celiac disease and wheat allergies.