Does Gluten Disagree with You?
The gluten free diet has become one of the most popular diet trends around the world.
Most people may eat gluten-containing foods as part of a healthy diet. For others, gluten causes numerous health problems and worsens their quality of life.
So how do we know if we might be reacting to gluten?
Here are 9 signs that gluten isn’t working for your body. These symptoms most commonly occur in patients with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS).
#1 – Brain Fog or Fatigue
Neurological symptoms may be triggered by gluten.
Brain fog leaves one feeling like their ability to think clearly, understand, and remember is impaired. Difficulty concentrating, grogginess, and forgetfulness are the common symptoms noted after gluten exposure. This makes dealing with everyday life very challenging.
Chronic fatigue is another commonly reported symptom, though little research has been done. The fatigue caused by gluten is more than occasion sleepiness. It cannot be fix with a nap or another coffee.
Instead, it persists as an overwhelming sense of weakness or exhaustion. This decreases one’s capacity for physical and/or mental work.
Prior to my youngest sister getting diagnosed with celiac disease, she struggled with extreme fatigue and a lack of physical stamina. Once, she was helping our dad with yardwork and got so tired she had to lie down. Going all the way inside seemed too far, so she laid down on the concrete garage floor and immediately fell asleep. Our dad woke her up four hours later!
Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and mood swings are also more common in people that react to gluten. Unfortunately, they typically get misdiagnosed as mental health problems.
#2 – Pain or Numbness
Joint pain, tenderness, or swelling may be caused by a reaction to gluten. Often this pain is attributed to arthritis and so the true trigger remains unidentified. Nerve pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness (neuropathy) are also symptoms.
Likewise, headaches and migraines are significantly more common among undiagnosed / untreated patients with celiac disease or NCGS. This is seen in both adults and children.
#3 – GI Complaints
Bloating, indigestion, abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, or constipation are not normal or healthy. Plus, they make life miserable!
IBS is frequently diagnosed prior to identifying gluten as a trigger for one’s symptoms. People with celiac disease who continue to experience IBS symptoms after switching to a gluten free diet may benefit from the low-FODMAPs diet.
#4 – Skin Rashes
Eczema, psoriasis, acne, chronic dry skin, hives, and alopecia areata (autoimmune triggered hair loss) may indicate that gluten isn’t working for you.
These conditions have been most studied in relation to celiac disease. However, eliminating gluten may improve symptoms in people without this autoimmune disease as well.
Dermatitis herpetiformis (aka Duhring’s disease or DH) is the skin manifestation of celiac disease. It presents as a severe, itchy rash and blistering skin. Generally, it starts in adulthood.
Almost all patients with dermatitis herpetiformis have celiac disease. Surprisingly, very few have digestive symptoms as well.
#5 – Vitamin or Mineral Deficiencies
Recurrent vitamin or mineral deficiencies are a frequently missed sign of celiac disease. Left untreated, they cause serious short- and long-term health problems such as sleep disorders, osteopenia, or osteoporosis.
Patients are most likely to be chronically low in iron, vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, zinc, folate (vitamin B-9), vitamin B-12, and/or fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6).
Prior to diagnosis and treatment with a gluten free diet, supplementation may not help due to malabsorption.
If your lab work routinely shows that you are low or deficient in any of these key vitamins or minerals, then celiac testing is recommended.
#6 – Oral or Dental Health Problems
Dental enamel defects (stains, pits, lines, and grooves), partial or complete loss of enamel, delayed tooth eruption, frequent cavities, and recurrent mouth ulcers (canker sores) are often caused by nutrient deficiencies.
These deficiencies may be the result of a reaction to gluten.
#7 – Infertility and Miscarriage
When the body isn’t getting the nutrients it needs, it reacts havoc on our hormones. This can lead to reproductive problems.
Sadly, for some women, unexplained infertility, recurrent miscarriage, or stillbirth is their first sign of celiac disease. Earlier screening, prior to starting to try for a baby, may prevent these traumatic experiences from happening.
Amenorrhea (no period), highly irregular menstrual cycle, endometriosis, and many other women’s health problems may also indicate that gluten isn’t working for your body.
Little research has been done on the connection between celiac disease and male infertility. However, preliminary research indicates that, just like in women who have undiagnosed celiac disease, men with undiagnosed celiac disease suffer from infertility more often than other men.
Men with undiagnosed (and therefore untreated) celiac disease, appear to have significantly higher rates of abnormal sperm and hormone levels. Male infertility problems may resolve after going gluten free.
#8 – Slowed Growth
Failure to thrive or delayed onset of puberty are most commonly seen when celiac disease begins in early childhood.
These growth problems are signs of malnutrition. Again, when our body isn’t getting enough of all the nutrients it needs to live and grow numerous health problems will occur.
#9 – Autoimmune Diseases
Gluten is an inflammatory food and may worsen inflammatory conditions, such as autoimmune disease.
Some people believe that anyone with an autoimmune disease needs to be on a gluten free diet. However, this perspective is not commonly supported across the medical community.
Despite this, many people living with autoimmune diseases have noticed improvements in their symptoms by going gluten free.
Furthermore, having one autoimmune disease increases your likelihood of developing another, including celiac disease.
The risk of developing celiac disease increases if you have been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes (formerly called juvenile diabetes), Multiple Sclerosis (MS), autoimmune thyroid disease (Hashimoto’s or Graves’ disease), Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA), and many others.
If you think you may be reacting to gluten or wheat, talk to your doctor about getting tested for celiac disease.
Layered Living offers celiac education and support for patients and their families.
Anderson, J. (2020, November 19). How Celiac Disease May Be Linked to Male Infertility. Verywell Health. Retrieved November 12, 2021, from https://www.verywellhealth.com/celiac-disease-may-be-linked-to-male-infertility-562620.
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Celiac Disease and Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA). Beyond Celiac. (2021, November 4). Retrieved November 12, 2021, from https://www.beyondceliac.org/celiac-disease/related-conditions/juvenile-idiopathic-arthritis/.
Dermatitis Herpetiformis (DH): Definition, causes & treatment. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2021, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/21460-dermatitis-herpetiformis.
Dermatitis Herpetiformis. Beyond Celiac. (2021, October 14). Retrieved November 12, 2021, from https://www.beyondceliac.org/celiac-disease/related-conditions/dermatitis-herpetiformis/.
The headache of celiac disease. Beyond Celiac. (2018, November 20). Retrieved November 12, 2021, from https://www.beyondceliac.org/research-news/the-headache-of-celiac-disease/.
Symptoms of Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity. Beyond Celiac. (2021, April 1). Retrieved November 12, 2021, from https://www.beyondceliac.org/celiac-disease/non-celiac-gluten-sensitivity/symptoms/.
WebMD. (2020, September 10). Alopecia areata & hair loss: Causes, treatments, and tips to cope. WebMD. Retrieved November 12, 2021, from https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/guide/alopecia-areata.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. This blog post is general information only and is not to be substituted for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.