Gluten has, in recent years, been demonized in many circles, leading to a mass boycott of this family of proteins. But gluten is harmless if you don’t have an adverse reaction to it.
Gluten is found in wheat, rye, spelt, and barley. Gluten consists of two main proteins called glutenin and gliadin. When these two proteins mix with water, they become glue-like in consistency, hence the name. Gluten gives bread dough it’s elastic nature and gives the final product its much-beloved chewy texture.
Around one percent of the population has celiac disease, which is the most severe form of gluten intolerance. In people with celiac disease, the immune system believes that the gluten proteins are foreign invaders, and it attacks them–along with the gut wall. Classified as an autoimmune disease, celiac disease can cause severe damage to the digestive system.
Gluten sensitivity, also known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity, is different from celiac disease and has milder symptoms. Unlike celiac disease, gluten sensitivity doesn’t damage the gut lining, but it can cause serious intestinal discomfort nonetheless.
Studies show that the majority of people who believe they’re gluten intolerant may not have a gluten sensitivity at all. One study found that only 25 percent of those who reported gluten sensitivity met the diagnostic criteria. That doesn’t mean that eating a lot of gluten still won’t make your gut unhappy.
Common Symptoms of Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
The symptoms associated with gluten sensitivity are wide-ranging, and some, like headaches, aren’t directly related to digestion. On their own, each symptom can have a myriad of causes. But if multiple symptoms occur together, it could be a sign of gluten sensitivity. The following are the five most common signs of non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Bloating is a very common digestive woe, and it’s associated with all kinds of foods and conditions. Research shows that around 87 percent of people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity experience frequent bloating discomfort.
2. Diarrhea and constipation
People who have regular bouts of diarrhea or constipation may be gluten-sensitive, especially if their feces are particularly foul-smelling. A recent study found that over half of people with gluten sensitivity have frequent diarrhea, and around 25 percent experience regular constipation.
While headaches are very common and have numerous causes, regular headaches that occur along with digestive symptoms can indicate a gluten sensitivity. In fact, some studies show that gluten-sensitive people may be more likely to experience migraines than non-sensitive people.
Up to 82 percent of people with gluten sensitivity frequently feel tired and fatigued, according to research, especially after eating foods containing gluten. In some cases, gluten intolerance can cause anemia, which contributes to fatigue.
5. Skin issues
Skin problems are common in people with celiac disease, and they can also indicate a gluten sensitivity in those without celiac. Skin problems associated with gluten sensitivity include psoriasis (scaly, red skin), alopecia areata (non-scarring hair loss), and chronic urticaria (itchy, pink or red lesions with pale centers).
How Gluten Sensitivity is Diagnosed and Treated
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is diagnosed if:
•You experience immediate symptoms after ingesting gluten.
•You cut out gluten and symptoms disappear.
•You re-introduce gluten and experience symptoms again.
•Medical exams rule out celiac disease and wheat allergy.
•A blinded gluten test confirms non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
If you have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, the most important thing to do is to take good care of your digestive health every day to reduce symptoms. A daily probiotic like Stonehenge Health’s Dynamic Biotics can help keep your gut flora in balance to reduce digestive discomfort, while our Incredible Digestive Enzymes support gluten digestion as well as the digestion of carbs, dairy, and fiber.
Depending on your symptoms and the severity of your gluten sensitivity, you may need to avoid gluten altogether, although some people with this condition can consume small amounts of gluten without too much trouble. Through trial and error, and with supplemental digestive support, you can find out what works best for you.