Your friend Sally’s sister just went gluten free. So did your cousin. And your aunt. Oh, and your uncle, too. Seems like everyone these days is avoiding wheat for one reason or another. Some claim that it helps them lose weight, others say they’re allergic, and most do it because everyone else is doing it. Are you wondering if wheat is bad for you and if you should ditch it too?
Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. It can cause some serious symptoms in as much as 15 percent of the population. Gluten sensitivity (or intolerance) and celiac disease describe two maladies associated with the consumption of wheat.
They differ in their effect on your body, but gluten sensitivity symptoms feel a lot like symptoms of celiac disease. It’s almost impossible to tell the difference between the two on the basis of symptoms alone.
Unlike celiac disease, gluten sensitivity doesn’t damage your small intestine. But that doesn’t mean it can’t still hurt you. With gluten sensitivity, you experience a direct reaction to the gluten because your body views the protein as an invader and fights it with inflammation both inside and outside of your gut.
Some researchers believe that people who are gluten sensitive can actually experience damage to other organs and systems, especially their neurological organs. With celiac disease, the immune system doesn’t mount a direct attack against gluten but triggers your immune system to attack your own tissue, namely your intestinal lining. It slowly eats away at it, causing major damage.
A simple blood test or biopsy via endoscopy can tell you if you have celiac disease, but unfortunately there is no board-approved medical test for gluten intolerance/sensitivity.
Most doctors prescribe an “elimination diet,” in which you stop eating products that are made from or contain gluten for 2 to 3 weeks and see if your symptoms get better. Not sure if you’re feeling crappy because of gluten? Here is a list of the 10 most common signs that you may be gluten sensitive or may have celiac disease.
1. Digestion issues: Diarrhea, constipation, and gas are all signs that you’re not digesting wheat properly.
2. Joint inflammation: Do your joints “bump together” or ache after eating a lot of wheat? This may be a sign that your body is inflamed and rejecting it. The Arthritis Foundation has published multiple articles and research regarding the link between gluten sensitivity, joint pain, and arthritic conditions.
3. Brain fog: Can’t think straight after eating wheat? Are you feeling “out of it”? Researchers found that there may be a reactivity of antibodies to gluten and other different antibodies that could result in mental fogginess.
4. Pins and needles: Gluten can affect whether your nerves function properly. People with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity can suffer from peripheral neuropathy, which often causes a tingling sensation in feet and hands.
5. Chicken skin: Do you have bumps on the back of your arm or inner thigh? Got patches of eczema or psoriasis? Gluten sensitivity can cause a host of skin issues.
6. Migraines: In a study that measured migraine headaches in gluten-sensitive people, headaches were reported in 56 percent of those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity and 30 percent of those with celiac disease.
7. Chronic fatigue: Are you getting a lot of sleep lately but feel like you’re relying on caffeine to keep going? Gluten may be the reason. When your body is in a state of inflammation, it’s expending a lot of energy dealing with gluten proteins. Most of the time it’s at the expense of available energy stores and normal bodily functions.
8. Anxiety, depression, or mood swings: Feelings of hopelessness, lack of interest, low energy, appetite changes, sleep changes, or anger after eating wheat can indicate an intolerance.
9. Hormone imbalances: Studies have shown that there’s a strong relationship between gluten sensitivity and imbalances of the hormones progesterone and estrogen, as well as adrenal hormones. It becomes worse during menopause but can also cause irregular menstrual cycles, weight gain or loss, hot flashes, low energy levels, and erratic sleep patterns.
10. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: Researchers believe that having a leaky gut can cause mental health issues because gluten and other food proteins are basically sneaking into the body where they don’t belong.