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 signs of gluten sensitivity. These are symptoms that many medical practitioners don’t attribute to a 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.
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 that seem to be one of the more clear-cut signs of gluten sensitivity.
12 Surprising Signs of Gluten Sensitivity
Gluten sensitivity (or intolerance, as they 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, painkillers, antidepressants, and other 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 signs of gluten sensitivity can show up beyond the digestive tract. One of the more common problems you might not realize is gluten’s capacity to wreck your skin (your largest organ!), joints, bones, mouth, endocrine system and more.
Because your symptoms seem all over the place, doctors often have trouble piecing them together as 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 open-mindedness 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 or add a more knowledgeable practitioner to your team.
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 it to gluten sensitivity and make sure to get support with a trusted practitioner who has extensive experience with gluten-related issues.
#1 Signs of Gluten Sensitivity – 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.
#2 Signs of Gluten Sensitivity – ADHD
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 Signs of Gluten Sensitivity – 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 effect 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 making it difficult to recall names, make quick deductions or decisions, or struggle to remember recent events. All are signs of gluten sensitivity that are overlooked and ignored.
Another interesting experience similar to brain fog is the sense of feeling intoxicated or drunk after consuming gluten. You didn’t have any alcohol at all, but you’re feeling as if you’d drank too much.
#4 Signs of Gluten Sensitivity – Autoimmune Disease
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.”
One of the biggest reasons why you must avoid gluten if you’ve already been diagnosed with any autoimmune disease is gluten’s ability to increase gut permeability. (source) That means your gut is “wide open” to food proteins and anything else in your gut that can act as an immune trigger.
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 Signs of Gluten Sensitivity – Low Immunity
If you’re prone to frequently getting sick, you should consider gluten to potentially be an issue.
Jennifer Fugo, founder of Skinterrupt, shared that the first sign of gluten intolerance for her was an extremely depressed secretory IgA antibodies result on adrenal testing she completed in early 2008 before she had any idea of what was wrong.
What’re secretory IgA antibodies, you ask?
It’s a class of antibodies (or you could think of them like little policemen) that your body makes. They exist primarily in saliva, tears and in the gastrointestinal tract (though some do exist in the blood).
These antibodies are essentially 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.
And not to keep harping on the gluten autoimmune disorder connection, BUT it is commonly seen in many autoimmune diseases including the thyroid condition known as Graves disease, Lupus, Type 1 diabetes, Celiac disease and rheumatoid arthritis. (source)
#6 Signs of Gluten Sensitivity – Dental Issues & Osteoporosis
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).
What’s worse is that calcium levels of gluten sensitive individuals can be staggeringly low due to malabsorption!
This leads to weakened bones and teeth, explaining why osteoporosis is another big sign.
Experts in functional medicine often recommend getting a DEXA scan, which measures bone density. It’s a reliable way of determining your calcium levels and overall bone health rather than relying on blood labs.
Unfortunately, while calcium levels may appear normal on a Comprehensive Metabolic Panel blood panel, the calcium level of your blood isn’t at all reflective of what’s stored in your bones.
#7 Signs of Gluten Sensitivity – 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. So it looks like you’ve been increasing your body’s fat stores, but no matter how much you diet or exercise, the weight doesn’t budge.
Instead, realize that gluten triggers inflammatory weight gain which is only reversible by removing gluten for good and healing your gut.
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 even just a 7-day round of antibiotics can negatively alter gut bacteria for up to two years. Keep in mind that even chronic candida (yeast) infections can also play a role in weight gain and loss.
Also, because there’s such a strong link to gluten impairing the function of your thyroid, you should always consider how optimal is your thyroid. Many people with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, for example, have found that they feel a marked improvement from the strict removal of gluten from the diet.
#8 Signs of Gluten Sensitivity – Migraines and Headaches
Migraines and chronic headaches are common signs of gluten sensitivity often cited by those who’ve suffered for years without any help from medications.
Even Jennifer Fugo has shared that she was popping Tylenol daily since she was a young teenager due to nonstop headaches.
Her eyes and brain all checked out as fine so doctors were clueless. Once gluten was out of her diet, the headaches completely went away!
Though migraines are certainly more serious, gluten also can be a trigger.
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 Signs of Gluten Sensitivity – Skin Problems (Including Skin Rashes)
From eczema, rosacea, unexplained hives, and acne to psoriasis, vitiligo, and dermatitis herpetiformis (DH), gluten can cause some extremely uncomfortable skin issues.
Basically, inflammation triggered in your gut combined with other environmental triggers cause eruptions of rashes, itchiness, burning, redness, and even painful blisters.
Here are 18 skin signs of gluten sensitivity!
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 called 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)
But the issue with eczema and psoriasis is somewhat different as they aren’t always directly linked to gluten ingestion. Instead, gluten increases gut permeability or leaky gut which in turn allows other partially undigested food proteins, gut bacteria or yeast, and other inflammatory waste to enter your body.
In the case of psoriasis, you are dealing with an autoimmune disease that is perpetuated by continued gluten exposure.
But with eczema, the picture is much more complicated due to over 15 unique root causes of which any combo can be a trigger. Gluten certainly is one along with many other food proteins which is why the first step in addressing eczema and other rashes is to tweak your diet.
The Eczema & Psoriasis Awareness Skin-Soothing Cookbook is a great way to start doing that especially since it’s free for a limited time!
Plus, if you want to dig in more on these annoying chronic skin rash conditions, join me for the online Eczema & Psoriasis Awareness Week!
>>> CLICK HERE TO GET A SEAT! <<<
#10 Signs of Gluten Sensitivity – Hormonal Imbalances 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.
On the topic of 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 overconsumption 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.”
And let’s not forget the role of your thyroid in healthy hormone balance! Gluten is a trigger for those with autoimmune thyroid conditions.
Plus, if gluten is truly a sensitivity or intolerance for you, then it’s also an additional stressor that will overtax your adrenal glands in time.
Since the endocrine (aka, hormonal) system is one giant balancing act, it’s important to look at what’s going on as a whole so that you can see what problem is impact which part of the system.
#11 Signs of Gluten Sensitivity – Joint and Muscle Aches
Got joint and muscle aches? Or maybe you were told that you have Fibromyalgia (without any reason for why the aches and pain won’t go away).
Either way, gluten can exacerbate joint and muscle issues because of two very distinct reasons.
First, 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.
Second, we’ve previously mentioned the connection of gluten to leaky gut. If your gut is no longer sealed tight so that foods and other proteins stay securely within the digestive tract, they’re going to cause trouble. When your body encounters these non-self proteins, it builds antibodies to help neutralize them (since it is sensing a threat).
Those antibodies can become mistaken and start attacking other tissue in your body (like your joints)… and that is why gluten is so closely tied to autoimmune disorders.
#12 Signs of Gluten Sensitivity – Extreme Chronic 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 felt 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 with 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 because you don’t know what’s safe…
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’m hosting a special webinar (that’s totally free) where I’m going to talk about the process how to simplify going gluten-free as well as how I (and my clients) have gotten to a place where 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.
Today and tomorrow, I’m hosting an exclusive webinar called…
There’s no cost to attend and I’m going to cover some of the biggest questions you have!
Think of it like you and I sit down for a cup of tea (or coffee)… let’s talk. 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.
Have any more symptoms that have surprised you to add to the list? Share your experience in the comments below!