Have you ever felt like doctors don’t take you seriously? You know that something is wrong with your health, but your practitioner is too quick to dismiss the concerns you experience. Through your own research you stumble upon this concept called gluten intolerance and realize that all of the signs of gluten sensitivity listed are identical to what you’re experiencing.
When I was in college, I too chased after elusive answers regarding my health while every doctor I saw felt my case wasn’t worth the time. A total of seven different doctors over the course of two years attributed my undiagnosed gluten intolerance (at the time) to other seemingly unrelated individual symptoms that got me nowhere.
All of my severe symptoms that were actually related to gluten were boiled down to “being a typical female college student” (what does that even mean?!), chronic fatigue, depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), chronic migraines, and one doctor even said I was just being paranoid.
Their solution was to throw medication at the various problems which included sleeping pills, separate anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications, and muscle relaxants. Despite my persistent prodding for real answers and diagnostic testing, these common “fixes” were equivalent to placing the tiniest band-aid over a gaping wound—I was not being helped, healed, or listened to.
Can you relate to my experience? Sadly, I’ve found this rings true for many people out there who remained undiagnosed with gluten sensitivity for years and were given false answers that led nowhere. If you still don’t have all of your answers, know that you may exhibit one or several nagging and debilitating symptoms that many medical practitioners don’t attribute to a very possible root cause of gluten intolerance or sensitivity. What’s worse, you’re more likely to be left in the dark without answers if you aren’t experiencing gastrointestinal related symptoms like diarrhea.
12 Surprising Signs of Gluten Sensitivity
Gluten sensitivity (or intolerance, as they’re are the same thing) can manifest as much more than just IBS-like symptoms and stomach problems. That’s why doctors are more likely to dismiss the idea that you even have this because if they don’t hear about digestive problems as your chief complaint, then it must be something else.
It can be an exclusively neurological disease for many. In 2013, an in-depth study by a team of researchers including renowned Dr. Alessio Fasano stated that, “Both Celiac Disease and gluten sensitivity may present with a variety of neurologic and psychiatric co-morbidities, however, extraintestinal symptoms (outside of the digestive system) may be the prime presentation in those with gluten sensitivity. However, gluten sensitivity remains under-treated and under-recognized as a contributing factor to psychiatric and neurologic manifestations.” (source)
It’s very important to note that not all cases of neurological symptoms are caused by gluten. However, issues like depression and anxiety which are not typically linked directly to gluten consumption CAN be signs of gluten sensitivity for some. Too often, pain killers and prescriptions are thrown at patients when no clear diagnosis is made, missing the real cause behind the symptoms bubbling up on the surface.
The bottom line is that gluten sensitivity can affect processes in the body beyond the digestive tract, wrecking havoc to your skin (our largest organ!), joints, bones, mouth, endocrine system and more. Your myriad of symptoms that don’t make sense to the doctor may mean that they’ve no clue that you’re reporting back to them the signs of gluten sensitivity. The current model of medicine treats symptoms rather than looking for the underlying cause which further explains why doctors are quick to prescribe medication that might ease only your momentary suffering. But it certainly doesn’t excuse the lack of education and openmindedness that would serve patients better if they knew more about the interaction between food and the body.
If you don’t feel listened to, then it may be time to find a new doctor. I eventually found a doctor who listened and told me I needed to stop eating gluten—for good. In a mere two weeks off gluten, all my plaguing symptoms began to cease and things I didn’t realize were actual problems with my body started to clear up, including achy joints (at age 21 no less!), muscle spasms, strange tingling sensations, and random dizziness.
And for all the doubters out there, gluten sensitivity is oh so very real.
Here’s a checklist of some of the surprising signs that have been linked to it gluten sensitivity and make sure to work with a qualified health professional to get tested.
1. Depression and Anxiety
Depression is a serious health concern for many people. Symptoms of depression can include feelings of hopelessness, lack of interest, low energy, appetite changes, sleep changes, anger, and more. Some patients do require medication to correct persistent imbalances with depression. However, often underlying causes of depression are not investigated. Research now confirms that Celiac disease and gluten intolerance are linked to depression, anxiety and mood disorders. Once gluten is removed from the diet in the gluten sensitive, depression and anxiety can actually be resolved.
Symptoms of anxiety often go hand in hand with depression which makes it very hard to relax and think clearly. Some may experience sensations of panic, loss of control, heart racing, chest pains, trouble breathing or feelings of passing out. Anxiety attacks can even mimic heart attacks so it’s important to be aware of the distinction.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder affects children and adults alike, but many don’t make the connection of their symptoms to diet. Dr. Ron Hoggan, Ed.D, co-author of the best selling book, “Cereal Killers,” wrote an article on Celiac.com citing several studies linking ADHD and gluten together. He states, “The concept of drugging a child to facilitate learning is upsetting to me, especially when there is cause to suspect that, on the gluten free diet, she may improve without intervention.” (source)
And by intervention, Dr. Hoggan is referring to medicinal intervention. Alternative approaches address food sensitivities and intolerance as a root cause of behavioral disorders. This follows the line of research and treatment that Dr. Charles Parker uses to treat patients in his psychiatric practice. He first looks at the gut because neurotransmitters are produced directly by what’s broken down in the digestive system. Leaky gut can facilitate a number of mental health issues because gluten and other food proteins are essentially sneaking into the body where they don’t belong.
3. Brain Fog
Being unable to think clearly is just as stifling as it sounds. When you feel disconnected or just plain “out of it”, it might not be all in your head.
Gluten can have the affect known as “foggy brain” in sensitive individuals. While it can be difficult to quantify gluten induced “brain fog”, researchers in a 2002 study in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry found that there may be significant cross reactivity of IgG antibodies to gluten and other different antibodies that could result in mental fogginess. These antibodies can also cause inflammation which can further exacerbate the condition.
4. Autoimmune Disease
Gluten consumption has been linked to numerous autoimmune diseases and was a hot topic during the Women’s Gluten-free Health Summit. Sarah Ballantyne PhD, also known as The Paleo Mom, shared some vital information with us concerning gluten sensitivity and autoimmunity. “Every single autoimmune disease in which gluten as a contributor has been investigated has shown that gluten sensitivity is a contributor to that disease.” Scary right? But luckily, making the connection is the first step towards better health.
It’s even possible to know if autoimmune issues are brewing years before they bubble up to the surface and you end up with a diagnosis. This gives you time to make nutritional and lifestyle adjustments that can impact whether you eventually develop a full-blown autoimmune disorder.
Just to be clear… here’s a list of some autoimmune diseases known to be related to gluten sensitivity — Celiac Disease, Hashimoto Thyroiditis, Graves Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Vitiligo, Sjogren’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis, Dermatitis Herpetiformis, and Type 1 Diabetes. We’ve talked about the connection between gluten and your thyroid previously, and it’s important to remember that it is a very prevalent condition.
5. Low Immunity
If you’re prone to frequently getting sick, you should consider gluten to potentially be an issue.
Jennifer Fugo, founder of Gluten Free School, shared that the first sign of gluten intolerance for her was an extremely depressed IgA result on adrenal testing she completed in early 2008 before she had any idea of what was wrong.
To break this down into simpler terms, IgA is a class of antibodies in your body that exist primarily in saliva, tears and in the gastrointestinal tract (though some do exist in the blood). Think of them as your first line of defense when a cold comes knocking at your door. When you’re sensitive to gluten or have celiac disease, one sign is a depressed level of IgA antibodies meaning that you don’t have the proper defenses in place to keep you well.
Believe it or not, IgA deficiency is “the most common immunodeficiency in Caucasians” occurring at a rate of 1 in 600. It is seen in many autoimmune diseases including the thyroid condition known as Graves disease, Lupus, Type 1 diabetes, Celiac disease and rheumatoid arthritis. (source)
6. Dental Issues
Cavities, canker sores (mouth ulcers) broken teeth, and tooth decay can plague those with undiagnosed gluten sensitivity as well as Celiac disease. A 2009 study published in the journal BMC Gastroenterology (source) found a positive link between gluten sensitivity and recurrent mouth ulcers, of which I personally experienced growing up (Recurrent aphthous stomatitis, or RAS).
Calcium levels of gluten sensitive individuals can be staggeringly low due to malabsorption, which can lead to weak bones and teeth. Dr. Kim Millman MD, a featured speaker of the Women’s Gluten-Free Health Summit, is a big supporter of requesting a DEXA scan, which measures bone density. It’s a reliable way of determining your calcium levels and overall bone health, since Dr. Millman also states that calcium levels in blood work aren’t at all reliable.
7. Unexplained Weight Loss or Weight Gain
Can’t keep your weight in check? A sudden or even gradual change in weight while eating habits remain more or less unchanged can be an indicator of a bigger health problem.
For some with malabsorption and gut permeability due to gluten intolerance or sensitivity, unwanted weight loss despite regular calorie intake can have dangerous effects. On the other hand, gluten can trigger systemic inflammation in the body that mimics stubborn weight gain. Removing gluten for good and healing the gut with a healthy diet can restore weight to healthy normal levels.
Another point to consider is that the type of gut bacteria living in your digestive system can play a direct role in your body’s ability to stay at a healthy weight. Brenda’s Watson, CNC shares that a even just a 7-day round of antibiotics can negatively alter gut bacteria for up to two years. Keep in mind that chronic candida (yeast) infections can also play a role in weight gain and loss.
8. Migraine Headaches
According to Mark Hyman MD, a leader in functional medicine and eight-time New York Times bestselling author, over 10 million Americans suffer from migraines. Anyone who has ever experienced a migraine knows how seriously painful they can be.
While not all cases of migraines are related to gluten, it’s been linked as a significant cause for some. In a study that measured migraine headaches in gluten sensitive individuals, chronic headaches were reported in 56% percent of those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity, 30 percent of those with Celiac disease, and 23 percent of those with inflammatory bowel disease. Only 14 percent of those in a control group reported headaches. (source)
Meanwhile Dr. Alessio Fasano, medical director of the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research, states that a 100% gluten-free diet can relieve many cases of chronic migraines.
9. Skin problems
From eczema and acne to psoriasis and dermatitis herpetiformis (DH), gluten can cause some extremely uncomfortable skin issues. Basically inflammation under the top layers of skin can occur and cause eruptions of rashes, itchiness, burning, redness, and even painful blisters.
The Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG) describes the severe rash of DH as, “a chronic disease of the skin marked by groups of watery, itchy blisters that may resemble pimples or blisters. The ingestion of gluten (from wheat, rye, and barley) triggers an immune system response that deposits a substance, lgA (Immunoglobulin A), under the top layer of skin. IgA is present in affected as well as unaffected skin…” GIG goes on to state that, “If you have DH, you always have gluten intolerance.” (source)
10. Hormonal Imbalance and Adrenal Fatigue
Hormone imbalance can manifest itself as irregular menstrual cycles, weight gain or loss, hot flashes, low energy levels, erratic sleep patterns and more. In discussing gluten sensitivity and female hormones,Dr. Daniel Kalish D.C states that “a strong relationship has been established in medical literature between gluten sensitivity and the hormones progesterone and estrogen. Additionally, most of my patients with gluten sensitivity have an adrenal hormone imbalance, and this becomes exacerbated for patients during menopause…” (source)
Dr. Kalish notes that he’s “…observed serious problems often begin to reveal themselves when women with gluten sensitivity reach peri-menopause. As their ovarian output of sex hormones drops, the resulting hormone imbalance is worsened by over consumption of gluten. The adrenal glands respond to the stress of unstable blood sugar and gastrointestinal tract inflammation caused by gluten by increasing cortisol. This causes increased body fat, fatigue and unstable moods.”
11. Joint and Muscle Aches
Got joint and muscle aches? Gluten’s damaging inflammation in susceptible individuals can cause flares and pain. WebMD states that, “Joint pain and inflammation are (also) common symptoms of gluten sensitivity. And research does show links between the two diseases.” The Arthritis Foundation has also published information regarding the link between gluten sensitivity, joint pain, and arthritis conditions.
12. Extreme Fatigue
Do you feel like you can never sleep enough? Jennifer of Gluten Free School shared that the reason she sought medical help initially was because she could sleep up to 11 hours and still wake up exhausted and feeling like she was drugged. Though she did have gastrointestinal issues, her extreme exhaustion seemed more pressing. Since removing gluten, she can get up daily at 5:45 am without an alarm and no need for caffeine.
So even if you’re getting an adequate amount of sleep each night, waking up feeling exhausted means that something’s up. Gluten can contribute to feelings of sluggishness and tiredness in several different ways. When your body is in a state of inflammation and spending resources dealing to gluten proteins, it’s at the expense of available energy stores and normal bodily processes.
NEED MORE HELP?
If you feel like you’re at your wits’ end and fed up knowing what to eat… Or you feel like food is your enemy now that you’ve gone gluten-free and you’re feeling deeply overwhelmed with the process of ridding your life of gluten… I have a really neat opportunity for you so keep on reading!
I decided that I want to talk to you!!! So I’m hosting a special webinar (that’s totally free) where I’m going to talk about the process and myths of going gluten-free as well as how I (and my clients) have gotten to a place of feeling like the lifestyle and diet are a piece of gluten-free cake. If you’ve been GF for less than 2 years, are still struggling to “stay on the wagon,” or haven’t even started going GF yet… this is for you.
To register for the Kick Gluten for Good Q&A –> CLICK HERE to register for Wednesday 4/13 at 8pm ET
Think of it like you and I sit down for a cup or tea (or coffee)… you can pick my brain, ask me your burning questions and I’m going to dish on what’s worked for me and my clients. Plus I’ll have a special surprise for you at the end! BUT please be aware that I will not record this event so if you miss it, then you’ve missed out.
I’ve never done this before and I don’t know if I’ll offer something like this again due to time constraints (school starts again soon)… so pick the time you can commit to and make sure to register for this FREE event. See you there!