Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It enhances the texture of most breads, crackers, pastas and cakes. It's also found in less obvious foods, such as soups and sauces. According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, about one in every 133 people in the United States has celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes gluten intolerance and intestinal damage. One in every 300 to 500 people has a milder intolerance, which does not cause permanent damage. If you develop symptoms of gluten intolerance, seek medical guidance.
Bloating and Pain
Gluten intolerance symptoms vary in type and severity. If you have a mild intolerance, you could experience bloating and subtle abdominal pain after eating gluten-containing foods. In some cases, bloating and cramping are severe. Although these symptoms are particularly common in children with celiac disease, according to the NDDIC, they can affect adults.
Diarrhea and Vomiting
When your body does not tolerate gluten, it deems the protein toxic. As a means of ridding itself of the harmful substance, your digestive system may react by ejecting foods eaten through diarrhea or vomiting. Diarrhea can also result from abdominal cramps related to gluten consumption. If you experience severe or long-lasting diarrhea or vomiting, dehydration and unintentional weight loss can result.
Constipation, or having fewer than three bowel movements per week, is extremely common, according to the NDDIC, and usually caused by a low-fiber or low-fluid diet. If you are gluten intolerant, you can experience constipation while consuming plentiful amounts of fiber and water. This is because many fiber-rich foods, such as whole-grain breads and cereals, contain gluten. Constipation can increase other symptoms of gluten intolerance, such as bloating and abdominal discomfort, and occur chronically or intermittent, between bouts of diarrhea.
If you have celiac disease, gluten causes inflammation and atrophy to your intestinal tract. This reduces your body's ability to absorb calories and vital nutrients, according to the American Celiac Disease Alliance. Adults may experience unexplained iron deficiency anemia. Low iron levels can cause a variety of bothersome symptoms, such as fatigue, dizziness, muscle weakness, mental confusion and irritability.
Over time, reduced absorption of calcium and vitamin D and poor calorie intake or absorption can lead to bone loss. For this reason, many adults with celiac disease experience bone pain, joint pain and, in severe cases, bone loss and osteoporosis -- a condition marked by brittle bones. The longer you go without diagnosis and proper treatment of celiac disease, the more likely you are to experience osteoporosis and other complications.
Depression and Anxiety
Gluten intolerance can interfere with your moods in numerous ways. Physical symptoms can cause stress and anxiety. You could feel anxious about eating knowing that abdominal pain or diarrhea might follow, or feel depressed over chronic symptoms you've yet to understand. Nutritional deficiencies can also interfere with moods. Consuming too few carbohydrates, for example, can reduce your brain's ability to produce the feel-good brain chemical serotonin, according to Psychology Today, leading to increased agitation and depressive moods.
Women with celiac disease can experienced irregular or missed periods. Heavy menstruation can also occur and trigger low iron levels. If you experience these symptoms, it's particularly important to seek proper diagnosis, says the NDDIC, because celiac disease can be confused with iron deficiency anemia related to heavy menstruation. Menstrual irregularities can also contribute to fertility problems.
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: Celiac Disease
- Des Moines University: What Is Gluten Intolerance?
- American Celiac Disease Alliance:
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: Constipation
- Mayo Clinic: Vitamin Deficiency Anemia
- Psychology Today: Low Carb State of Mind
August McLaughlin is a health and sexuality writer, podcast host and author of “Girl Boner: The Good Girl’s Guide to Sexual Empowerment” (Amberjack Publishing, 2018). Her articles appear in DAME Magazine, Cosmopolitan.com, the Huffington Post and more, and she loves connecting with readers through her blog and social media. augustmclaughlin.com