What Is Gluten And 10 Signs Of Gluten Intolerance?

Posted by Casper du Toit on

What is gluten? Most people have heard of gluten but many don’t know what it is. More and more companies are putting gluten-free labels on their products and if you do a quick search on Google you will find many people talking about topics such as the gluten free diet and gluten free foods.

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Is gluten something you should be concerned about?

The short answer is that in the vast majority of cases the answer is no. However, there are millions of people that have celiac disease or that are gluten intolerant and for most of them gluten plays a very important role in their lives. But, the fact is that often they are not even aware of it.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein that is found in grains such as barley, wheat, rye and triticale (a crossbred hybrid between wheat and rye).

Grains such as wheat and rye contain gluten

Note: Although oats are naturally gluten-free there is a risk it might have been contaminated during production with barley, wheat or rye.   

Since the above-mentioned grains are often used as ingredients in other products or as a thickening agent, gluten may be present in many foods and drinks such as beer, bread, cake, cereal, cookies, pasta and pies.

Bread and barley contain gluten

What does gluten-free mean?

According to the FDA (U.S. Food & Drug Administration), “gluten-free” means that food either is inherently gluten free or does not contain an ingredient that is:
1) a gluten-containing grain (e.g. wheat),
2) derived from a gluten-containing grain that has not been processed to remove gluten (e.g. wheat flour), or
3) derived from a gluten-containing grain that has been processed to remove gluten (e.g. wheat starch), if the use of that ingredient results in the presence of 20 parts per million (ppm) or more gluten in the food. Also, any unavoidable presence of gluten in the food must be less than 20 ppm.

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is when a person’s body can’t process gluten correctly. If the individual continues to consume foods that contain gluten it can attack the lining of the small intestine and damage it to the point where it cannot absorb nutrients. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder.

The only way forward for those suffering from celiac disease is to completely eliminate gluten from their diet.

According to celiac.org approx. 1 out of every 100 people suffer from celiac disease and it is often hereditary as 1 out of every 10 people that has the disease also has a family member who has it.

A blood test is required to determine if someone is suffering from celiac disease or a wheat allergy.

Note: Some people spell it CELIAC and others spell it COELIAC. It means the same thing. In the UK it is normally spelled as Coeliac whereas in the US it is normally spelled as Celiac.

What is NCGS (non-celiac gluten sensitivity)?

NCGS or non-celiac gluten sensitivity is a milder form of gluten intolerance as it does not damage the lining of the small intestine as in the case of celiac disease.

The challenge is that it is very difficult to diagnose NCGS. The patient must first be tested for celiac disease and if the results are negative although the symptoms are similar or the same as for celiac disease then the patient, in like likelihood, has NCGS.  

According to the NIH (National Institute of Health):

“NCGS remains a diagnosis based on the exclusion of coeliac disease, given the absence of reliable biomarkers.”

– Systematic review: noncoeliac gluten sensitivity - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25753138

The most common method, if an individual is suspected of having a gluten sensitivity based on his or her symptoms, is for that individual to go on a gluten-free diet for 4 weeks to 8 weeks but at least 30 days minimum and to monitor and record any changes in symptoms.     

10 Signs of Gluten Intolerance or Gluten Sensitivity

Here are 10 of the most common symptoms of gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity that people report when they consume gluten.

  1. Bloating

Feeling bloated is when the belly feels swollen after eating. It is often accompanied by a build-up of gas. It is very common and can have many different causes, including overeating. However, it is often a symptom of gluten intolerance, especially when it occurs regularly and is not always related to the quantity of food consumed.

  1. Abdominal Pain

Similar to feeling bloated, abdominal pain can have many different causes. However, people that have a gluten intolerance often complain about having frequent abdominal pain without any obvious reason(s).   

  1. Headaches

Having a headache or migraine every once in a while is not than uncommon but gluten-intolerant people seem to be more prone to having regular headaches or migraines for no apparent reason compared to people that are not gluten intolerant or sensitive to gluten.

  1. Diarrhea or Constipation

Most people would not think twice about getting the occasional bout of diarrhea or constipation but people with a gluten intolerance seem to experience it on a more regular basis. Their poop or stool may also smell more unpleasant than other people due to the poor absorption of nutrients that is common for this condition.

  1. Tiredness and a Lack of Energy

For most people a lack of sleep will make them feel tired. In the case of people suffering from gluten intolerance though they often feel tired every single day regardless of how much sleep they get. In addition, most of them also experience a lack of energy.

As pointed out by the NIH (National Institute of Health) it is often related to the malabsorption of iron, folic acid, vitamin B12 and vitamin D. 

  1. Depression or Anxiety

Many people suffer from depression or feelings of anxiety without any apparent reason outside of the normal everyday stress of daily living that many people experience.

People that are gluten intolerant though seem to be more prone to feeling depressed or anxious and studies have shown that when such individuals embark on a gluten-free diet that they often feel much better than before which would suggest a causal link between their diet and how they feel.

  1. Joint and Muscle Pain

Many people suffer from conditions such as arthritis and gout that cause inflammation and painful joints. People that are gluten intolerant or sensitive to gluten may also experience joint and muscle pain caused by the consumption to gluten that often causes inflammation.

In the case of gluten intolerance the symptoms may sometimes appear to be similar than those of arthritis or gout but a physician should be able to determine if it is related to a gluten intolerance instead.

  1. Brain Fog

Brain fog generally refers to a condition where an individual has trouble focusing, learning things or remembering things. It can be disorientating and frustrating as well as confusing. Although brain fog can be caused by any number of reasons people who have a gluten intolerance often mention brain fog as a symptom of their condition.

  1. Unexpected Weight Loss

Doctors are often concerned when patients gain or lose a lot of weight over a short period of time. Unexpected weight loss and even anorexia may be a sign of celiac disease caused by digestive problems coupled with poor absorption of nutrients.

  1. Skin Problems

Arguably, the most debated symptom of gluten intolerance is how it may affect the skin. Perhaps because the skin and especially the face is so important to most people as they really care about how they look and it is a very visible symptom.

There is a lot of disinformation such as if a person stops eating foods that contain gluten, when the individual does not have celiac disease and is not hypersensitive to gluten, that it will have a positive impact on various skin conditions. There is no evidence to support this claim.

However, gluten intolerance can affect the skin and in this case a gluten-free diet may have a positive impact on skin problems.

As pointed out by the NIH (National Institute of Health):

“Gluten intolerance gives rise to a variety of dermatological manifestations which may benefit from a gluten-free diet.”

Gluten intolerance and skin diseases 

A Word of Caution

Going gluten-free can be very beneficial for many people but be aware of processed foods that claim to be gluten-free on their packaging. Processed foods are often not healthy and may be low in nutrients as well as high in sugar and fat.

The foods that are normally excluded from a gluten-free diet often provide important vitamins and minerals such as iron, calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin D and folic acid. These should be substituted with non-gluten foods that still provide important vitamins and nutrients. For example:

Iron - meat, lentils and soybeans

Calcium - spinach, sardines, almonds and seaweed

Vitamin B12 - meat, fish and eggs

Vitamin D - salmon, sardines, shrimp and cod

Supplements are never a replacement for eating healthy but can help a lot to ensure that the body is getting sufficient vitamins and minerals.

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At LUNVA.com all of our natural vitamins and dietary supplements are gluten-free and we have a wide range of supplements, from multivitamins for men and women to vitamins that address specific issues such as our vitamin D3 supplement.  

Disclaimer: The article “What Is Gluten and 10 Signs of Gluten Intolerance” is meant for general information purposes only and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Please consult with your healthcare professional or physician should you require any medical advice or if you are suffering from any medical condition.

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