Gluten-free diets are all the rage these days! People are trying the new no-gluten kick as a means of losing weight, burning fat, and eliminating “toxins”. For the majority of people, eliminating gluten is absolutely unnecessary–and often borderline unhealthy. After all, many of the foods that contain gluten are perfectly safe.
However, for roughly 1% of the U.S. population, gluten can be very harmful their health. The consumption of even small quantities of gluten can lead to pretty strong gluten allergy symptoms, many of which can interfere with their quality of life.
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Knowing how to recognize the gluten allergy symptoms is vital for those who are actually allergic or intolerant to gluten. Below, you will find out everything you need to know about both forms of gluten allergy and the accompanying symptoms…
Celiac Disease vs. Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
There are two types of gluten allergies/intolerances:
Celiac Disease — Celiac disease is actually an autoimmune disorder. Basically, your immune system sees gluten as a threat, so it attacks the gluten particles in your body. It does so as the gluten is being absorbed into your bloodstream via the villi in your intestines. By attacking the gluten, your immune system also damages the villi, leading to malnutrition. The damage caused by this autoimmune disorder can be severe and long-term.
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity — Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is less of an autoimmune disorder and more like lactose intolerance. With non-celiac gluten sensitivity, you do not suffer from celiac disease nor do you have a wheat allergy. However, when you eat foods that contain gluten, your body reacts strongly, with unpleasant gluten allergy symptoms.
The two conditions share a few similarities, particularly in the symptoms. However, the truth is that they are two very different creatures! Celiac disease can be very serious while non-celiac gluten sensitivity is much more of a food intolerance than anything else. Those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity are far less likely to experience severe side effects when encountering minuscule quantities of gluten in their food. With celiac disease, however, even trace amounts of gluten can cause serious harm.
Gluten Allergy Symptoms: Celiac Disease
Celiac disease is the more serious of the two, and it’s the one most likely to show up in children as well as adults. According to Beyond Celiac, roughly 1 in 133 Americans suffers from celiac disease. 83% of them are either undiagnosed or misdiagnosed while only 17% of celiac sufferers receive an accurate diagnosis of their problem. It can take anywhere from 6 to 10 years for a celiac sufferer to be accurately diagnosed.
Celiac Disease in Children
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Abdominal Bloating/Gas — When your intestines are damaged by your immune system, they are unable to absorb nutrients properly. Improperly digested nutrients that pass through the intestines encounters the bacteria living there. As the food is broken down, gas is released. The more gas that is released, the fuller your stomach gets–leading to bloating and flatulence.
Constipation — This is another problem that results from the damage to your intestinal villi. The intestines struggle to digest your food properly, often absorbing too much water from the food you eat. If the fecal matter is too dry, it will be harder for your intestinal muscles to push out the waste disposal exit–a problem we all know as constipation.
Stomach Pain — The damage to your intestinal villi can be serious if you are exposed to too much gluten in your food. For those with celiac disease, stomach pain is a symptom of your body attacking itself.
Chronic Diarrhea — Diarrhea is the result of improper digestion, which is caused by the damage to your intestinal villi. If they are too damaged, they are unable to absorb sufficient water from your food. The highly liquid fecal matter passes through your digestive system too quickly, causing chronic or long-term diarrhea problems. (Note: Chronic diarrhea can be hazardous to your health as it can cause dehydration and malnutrition.)
Vomiting/Nausea — Stomach upset is normal with celiac disease, as it’s your body’s way of getting rid of anything that could harm it. Vomiting is a protective measure against the gluten that it senses will harm your intestinal tract.
Pale, Foul-Smelling Stool — Pale stool is a sign of serious damage to your intestinal tract, and the foul smell is another side effect.
These are the symptoms most common among children, and they can have long-term consequences for the child’s growth and development.
- Infants with celiac disease will often suffer from poor health, and they will not grow as fast as they should.
- Celiac children will often be irritable, experience sudden changes in their weight (loss is more common), and they may be shorter than other children their age. Their teeth may suffer, as the disease results in a wearing away of the enamel protecting their teeth from damage.
- Celiac disease is even known to delay the onset of puberty.
All of these things are very serious problems, so it’s in your best interest to keep an eye out for the gluten allergy symptoms that will warn you whether or not your child is at risk for celiac disease.
Celiac Disease in Adults
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When it comes to adult celiac, the digestive issues mentioned above are some of the most common gluten allergy symptoms. Celiac disease affects the adult digestive system as much as it does a child’s, but the side effects of consuming gluten as a celiac sufferer often extends far beyond their digestive system.
The symptoms of gluten allergy in celiac adults tend to be much more severe and widespread, including:
- Osteoporosis — When your villi are damaged, your body is unable to absorb nutrients properly. This means that your body isn’t getting enough calcium to nourish your bones, leading to a “wasting” or degeneration of your bone mass. Osteoporosis is a very common side effect of the long-term untreated celiac disease.
- Headaches –– According to one 2003 study, celiac disease is one of the triggers for migraine headaches. Italian researchers found that people with migraine headaches had a 1000% higher chance of celiac disease than their healthy, headache-free counterparts.
- Anemia –– Anemia is a lack of iron in the body, which limits your production of the red blood cells that transport oxygen and nutrients. Your body needs iron to produce red blood cells, but with your villi damaged, there is a deficiency of iron.
- Depression/Anxiety –– You’d be amazed by how closely linked your digestive tract and emotional state are. If you don’t get the right balance of nutrients, your body is unable to produce sufficient quantities of all the important neurochemicals. Without that balance, your emotional state can be thrown out of balance. This can lead to anxiety, depression, and a host of emotional disorders.
- Fatigue –– If your body isn’t able to absorb nutrients, it cannot produce energy from the food you eat. Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of digestive problems, as it is the result of insufficient calories absorbed via your food. Without enough calories taken into your body, it doesn’t have the energy to function.
- Joint Pain –– According to the Center for Celiac Research, the symptoms of gluten intolerance can show up anywhere in the body. This is because partially digested gluten particles are able to leak through the damaged villi and enter the bloodstream. Wherever they are deposited, the body sends antibodies to attack them. If the particles happen to end up in your joints (a surprisingly common occurrence), you may suffer from joint pain similar to rheumatoid arthritis (another autoimmune disorder).
- Canker Sores –– Celiac mouth sores are very similar to canker sores. However, it’s uncertain as to why they form as a result of celiac disease only that they do.
- Menstrual Abnormalities — Celiac disease can affect the function of the reproductive system, leading to irregularities with menstruation and ovulation. A large number of celiac sufferers have problems with their menstrual cycle.
- Miscarriages/Infertility — some medical studies have examined why celiac disease can cause infertility. A few studies have discovered a link between infertility and celiac disease while others found no correlation. Celiac disease has been known to cause gonadal dysfunction, which can lead to both infertility and a higher risk of miscarriages. For those with unexplained infertility, it’s a good idea to get screened for celiac disease.
- Tingling — If you notice a tingling in your hands and feet, you are likely experiencing what is known as peripheral neuropathy. This is a condition that causes your arms, legs, hands, and feet to tingle, feel numb, or even feel extra hot. Celiac disease is a known cause of the nerve damage that leads to peripheral neuropathy.
As you can see, the symptoms can be very serious. If you notice any of these gluten allergy symptoms, it’s in your best interest to get checked out by a doctor as soon as possible!
Gluten Allergy Symptoms: Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is NOT an autoimmune disorder. It is simply your body’s inability to process, digest, and absorb gluten properly. It’s a much more common problem than celiac disease, and thankfully a far less severe one.
Some of the symptoms of non-celiac gluten sensitivity include:
- Brain Fog — Also known as “mental fatigue,” this is one of the most common symptoms of non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Basically, the consumption of gluten affects your brain, impairing cognitive function to the same degree as drinking a lot of alcohol. The impairment of cognitive function can grow serious if sufferers don’t eliminate gluten from their diet.
- Fatigue –– This is more than just your body’s inability to absorb energy. Your intestinal tract is suffering as a result of exposure to gluten, but your brain is also suffering (as the above symptom illustrates). Fatigue often accompanies impaired cognitive function, causing you to feel drowsy.
- Headaches –– The headaches caused by gluten sensitivity may not be as serious as the migraines common with celiac disease, but they’re no less painful or debilitating. When suffering from a gluten headache, you may be unable to think straight or function properly.
- Digestive Problems –– Just like with lactose intolerance, your body is unable to absorb nutrients thanks to the gluten interfering with healthy digestion. This causes undigested food to pass through your intestines, where it is broken down by bacteria. The breaking down process produces gas, which can cause bloating and stomach pain. Increased flatulence is another side effect of consuming gluten.
The problem with non-celiac gluten sensitivity is that it’s much harder to test for than celiac disease. It is not an autoimmune disorder so it won’t have any of the markers that prove your immune system is attacking itself. It’s also not a wheat allergy so your body won’t respond negatively to the presence of wheat. The problems only show up when you encounter gluten.
That’s why it’s so important that you recognize and understand the gluten allergy symptoms listed above! If you understand the signs of a gluten allergy–either celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity–you can recognize that something is going wrong in your body and take steps to correct it. If the symptoms disappear after you cut gluten from your diet, you’ll know that you found the source of the problem. From there, it’s up to you to lead a healthy, gluten-free life!
The best way to go is to keep in mind that health should always be a priority. These guidelines are only simple information, it is up to you how to apply it in your life. Just remember that it never hurts to be conscious and to be mindful of what causes harm to your body.