Gluten is an offending protein found in many processed foods and grains, especially barley, wheat or rye. It consists of gliadin and glutenin, with glutenin being only soluble in acids. Gluten sensitivity exists in roughly twelve percent of the general population, although the latest reports suggest that the number could be much higher with the majority of the population living with it unknowingly since its symptoms can be misleading. Gluten sensitivity can include in itself wheat gluten allergy and celiac disease, so all three should not be confused. Wheat gluten allergy is often found in children and usually causes a rapid reaction – digestive, hives, eczema, or asthma etc. There are over 250 identified symptoms of gluten sensitivity. Let’s take a look at some of them.
One of the most common symptoms of gluten sensitivity in adults is feeling bloated after eating. This happens because the intestine cannot fully digest the gluten- filled foods, and the body is unable to breakdown fats properly, resulting in bloating, abdominal pain, cramping, and incorrect bowel movement. Other gastrointestinal symptoms include irritable bowel syndrome, foul – smelling stools, excessive gas, diarrhea or constipation.
Interestingly, while affecting the gut, most of the symptoms of gluten sensitivity are non-gastrointestinal in nature. Adults are also subject to migraines and headaches. Headaches as symptoms are related to the fact that the digestive system has trouble absorbing vitamins and nutrients when one is gluten sensitive. As a result, our nervous system and brain are not receiving all the proper nutrients, and headaches (sometimes migraines) start to happen. One of the most common behavioral symptoms of gluten sensitivity is an increased tendency towards hyperactivity. Since the consumed protein is inflammatory to the body (and mind), gluten sensitivity can worsen any condition related to the nervous system, thereby causing ADHD-like behaviour.
Another mental symptom as one of the gluten side effects is depression and fatigue. The link to depression as one of the symptoms is interesting: the inflammatory response in the body attacks the protein gliadin in gluten. However, the body’s own protein structures (the brain and nerve cells) are very similar, and our system may also attack those proteins. When the body then attacks the cells, there is inflammation within the brain, leading to depression, fatigue, and even schizophrenia. Another reason the brain is affected has to do with blood flow. Gluten sensitive individuals experience problems with blood circulation if untreated. This also can lead to anxiety or depression. Since affected adults also have trouble absorbing proteins, some amino acids are not present, leading to lack of feel- good hormones and the brain lacks the ability to relax.
Some adults might experience muscle pain and joint pain as symptoms of gluten sensitivity. When the body cannot properly absorb calcium and vitamin D, the joints and bones cannot be properly repaired and cannot remain strong. Since gluten sensitivity causes lack of vitamin absorption, this poses a threat.
Gluten- sensitive individuals are usually not likely to develop intestinal lesions. Unlike with celiac disease, these people are more likely to eventually develop symptoms of gluten sensitivity but the intolerance rarely has to do with intestinal abnormalities. A good way to help alleviate the symptoms is to avoid gluten. A good ingredient to add to one’s diet is, for example, gluten – free oat, which has zinc and complex carbohydrates. To reduce the symptoms, one should really scrutinize labels and avoid gluten, malt, rye, and other food stabilizers in processed foods.