Four Signs of Gluten Sensitivity

May 18, 2015

Now before I give you fodder to give up gluten ‘just because,’ let me go on record as saying that I think we eat way too much of this protein in our modern diets (just like we do with most protein…). In the  macrobiotic way of eating, flour products are considered supplementary to our daily fare of whole grains, veggies, beans, nuts, seeds, fruit, good fats…and dark chocolate (okay, that’s my version of macrobiotics…).


In our modern life, we often eat a flour-based product (from wheat) as often as three times a day. Think about it. Toast or a muffin for breakfast, a wrap, burger or sandwich for lunch (or a salad with croutons) and some form of bread or flour with dinner. And that’s not including the cookie or pastry as a snack…or the additives in processed foods that might contain gluten.


That’s a lot of gluten in a day…day after day.


But before saying bye-bye to bread…and pasta and crackers and cookies, here are four signs you might have a sensitivity to gluten and need to do something about it. People experience health issues when they eat gluten for these reasons: Celiac disease, wheat allergies and gluten sensitivity.


Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that causes the destruction of villi in the small intestine after eating gluten. A celiac blood panel while gluten is still in the diet measures antibodies in the blood, including anti-gliadin (“anti-gluten”) IgA and IgG, and anti-tissue transglutaminase IgA (tTG-IgA) and is the only way to definitively diagnose this problem.


98% of people with celiac will test positive for tTG-IgA in their blood while eating gluten (even if they’re not symptomatic), followed by a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. People with celiac disease must strictly avoid all gluten in order to live a healthy life free of symptoms. There’s no other option.


A wheat allergy is also a real thing. This is an IgE-mediated disorder that can cause reactions from anaphylaxis (your throat swells and you can’t breathe; an EpiPen is needed) to asthma-like symptoms  after eating wheat. Gluten is in all wheat products, but wheat-free foods that might contain lower concentrations of gluten like barley, rye and some oats can be eaten without reaction by some people with wheat allergies.


And then there’s what we call gluten sensitivity. Even people not suffering with celiac disease or a wheat allergy, can still feel less than fabulous after eating gluten because they’re sensitive to it and don’t assimilate it well. Known as ‘non-celiac gluten sensitivity,’ this latest gluten issue is low on the spectrum of gluten-related disorders but is getting attention from experts and medical professionals alike. It looks like more and more people are feeling better and finding relief from digestive struggles and other chronic ailments by simply avoiding or minimizing gluten in their diets.


Here are some pretty clear signs that you have issues with gluten digestion.


Digestive issues, erratic emotions and joint and muscle aches are symptoms of gluten sensitivity. But before you panic and throw your bread out as bird food, read on. Many of the symptoms you’re about to discover can happen to any of us on any day. If you find these are not the exception, but the rule, you might want to consider them more seriously…and look at gluten as a possible culprit.


If gluten sensitivity is at the root of what ails you, the following symptoms will hit you right quick after eating it…and will markedly improve or disappear completely within hours (sometimes a day or so) after ditching gluten. And if they return when you consume gluten again, then it’s likely you have a sensitivity.


Upper GI symptoms occur in people with gluten sensitivity. They  burp (a lot) and feel bloated; they experience heartburn (a lot) and feel stomach pain after eating. Some people describe it as feeling like food is ‘stuck’ and not getting where it needs to go to digest properly. Some refer to their stomach as feeling tight.


Lower GI issues can cause diarrhea or constipation (often both) in people who are gluten sensitive. Often people with these sensitivities experience similar symptoms to those of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The difference between the two conditions is that with gluten sensitivity, if gluten is eliminated, diarrhea and/or constipation disappear after a few days. That’s not always the case with IBS. I will go on record however as saying that people with IBS might do well to consider reducing the amount of gluten they consume.


Mental and emotional difficulties can be caused in some people. Brain fog, depression, anxiety and general numbing fatigue can occur in people who are gluten-sensitive. These issues are easily and often  overlooked as indicators of gluten-sensitivity, especially if there are no digestive symptoms with it. Sensitive individuals feel more mentally clear, energized, less anxious and/or moody once they minimize their intake of gluten.


Aches and pains can also indicate a gluten sensitivity. Not every ache and pain is the result of gluten but people with this sensitivity often experience chronic headaches, joint and muscle pain; some even feel a tingling or numbness in both hands and feet. Again, if there’s a sensitivity, these symptoms should diminish after going gluten-free for a few days.


Now even if you’ve felt these symptoms, it doesn’t mean you’re gluten-sensitive. It may mean you eat too much refined flour (with gluten) in your daily diet. But, if these symptoms have become a way of life for you, you might want to try a wee experiment.  Eliminate gluten for about three weeks, but keep your diet pretty much the same other than that. If you’re sensitive, you should start feeling better within the first week. Let go of gluten go for the entire three weeks and then test the waters. Slowly bring it back into your diet and see how you feel. That should give you a pretty clear picture as to whether or not you’re gluten sensitive, especially if you’ve changed nothing else in your diet.