Gluten intolerance is a very common condition. It is characterized by allergic reactions to gluten. Gluten is a protein present in rye, barley, and wheat.
There are many potential causes of gluten intolerance. These include non-celiac gluten sensitivity, celiac disease, and wheat allergy (1).
There are three established forms of gluten intolerance. All three forms can cause serious symptoms. It is worth mentioning that most symptoms of gluten intolerance have nothing to do with digestion.
So, in this article, we will consider some of the commonest symptoms of gluten intolerance.
Symptoms of celiac disease
Celiac disease is the severest form of gluten intolerance. It is an autoimmune condition affecting no less than 1% of the population. Celiac disease usually damages the digestive system (2).
Celiac disease is characterized by several symptoms, such as gastrointestinal conditions, mood swings, and skin problems.
Let’s take a look at some of the commonest symptoms of celiac disease.
1. Constipation, diarrhea, and smelly feces
Inflammation of the small intestine is a common condition among people with celiac disease. The inflammation usually comes after eating gluten.
The inflammation causes damage to the lining of the gut resulting in poor absorption of nutrients. This, in turn, leads to severe discomfort in the digestive system, constipation, or frequent diarrhea (3).
It is also important to note that people who have celiac disease may have foul-smelling feces or have a pale appearance (5).
A constant feeling of tiredness is common among people with celiac disease and other autoimmune conditions (6).
The fatigue in celiac patients is associated with several factors, such as (6):
Celiac disease is also associated with a high risk of iron deficiency anemia. Iron-deficiency anemia is a condition that inhibits the smooth production of healthy red blood cells by the body (7).
3. Skin reactions
Do you know that gluten intolerance can harm your skin?
Well, yes! A common skin condition associated with celiac disease is dermatitis herpetiformis (9).
It is important to note that gluten sensitivity is a primary feature among all celiac patients. at the same time, it is worth mentioning that some people with celiac disease do not experience any symptom in their gut that indicates celiac disease (10).
It is also important to note that several skin conditions are improved while the individual is on a gluten-free diet. These skin conditions include:
4. Anxiety and depression
Over 6% of adults suffer depression every year. The symptoms of depression include sad and hopeless feelings. Of course, these symptoms have a negative impact on a person’s daily life (11).
There are a couple of theories as to how gluten intolerance can trigger depression. Here’s what we’ve discovered:
- Gluten exorphins. These are peptides formed during the digestion of gluten proteins. Gluten exorphins may interfere with the function of the central nervous system, which increases one’s risk of depression (16).
- Atypical serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that enhances communication between cells. Its common name is “happiness hormone” because its deficiency is associated with depression (17).
- Alterations in the gut microbiota. The gut may be populated with large amounts of harmful bacteria. The population of good bacteria decreases. These have an adverse effect on the central nervous system and increases the risk of depression (18, 19).
5. Weight loss
Sometimes, the celiac patient may experience unexplained weight loss. While weight loss may be caused by several factors, unexplained weight loss is a major side effect of celiac disease (20). This weight loss may be due to poor nutrient absorption.
6. Autoimmune disorders
This increases the prevalence of celiac disease in people with other autoimmune conditions, such as autoimmune liver disease, type 1 diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease (21).
Other symptoms of celiac disease include:
- Numbness of the leg or arm
- Joint and muscle pain
- Iron deficiency anemia
Symptoms of non-celiac gluten sensitivity
It is a fact that celiac disease is the severest form of gluten intolerance. However, it is important to note that 0.5-13% of people may be affected by non-celiac gluten sensitivity. This is a mild form of gluten intolerance (22, 23).
Common symptoms of this condition include:
Symptoms of wheat allergy
When a person has a wheat allergy, the immune system reacts severely to certain proteins in wheat. This includes gluten and other compounds (24).
Wheat allergy is more prevalent among children. Studies have shown that at least 65% of children outgrow these allergies before the age of 12 (24).
Common symptoms of wheat allergy include:
- Skin rash
- Digestive problems
- Nasal congestion
There are many symptoms of gluten intolerance. However, it is important to note that most of these symptoms may have other causes as well.
Either way, if these symptoms occur regularly without any apparent cause, then there’s a chance that it’s a reaction to the gluten in your diet. Consult your healthcare provider to know what are your best options.