If you’re living with headaches, stomach upset, fatigue or other unexplained health problems, you may be suffering from a gluten allergy. Gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains, is an ingredient in thousands of processed foods. In everything from bread, crackers, cookies, pasta, sauces, bakery goods, sauces, salad dressing–even ice cream–you have to work hard to avoid this common food additive.
Causes of Gluten Allergies
Sensitivity to gluten can be caused by a number of health issues. An allergic reaction to gluten means your body’s immune system mistakes gluten as a foreign and harmful substance. In launching an attack on the invader–in this case gluten–the immune system causes inflammation and other uncomfortable side effects.
Gluten sensitivity can also be caused “intolerance” or inability to digest gluten. Like those with dairy food-related lactose intolerance, your body may lack the specific enzymes necessary to break-down the gluten protein.
A third and more serious cause of gluten sensitivity is Celiac disease. For those with Celiac disease, ingesting gluten causes damage to the small intestine which prevents absorption of nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Left undiagnosed, Celiac disease can lead to a long list of serious and potentially life-threatening health issues including anemia, chronic infections, malnutrition, bone loss and neurological damage
Symptoms of Gluten Allergies
Whether caused by an allergy, intolerance or Celiac disease, symptoms of gluten sensitivity can increase over time. Signs of gluten sensitivity range from stomach upset, headaches, joint paint, fatigue to irritability. This broad range of symptoms is one reason why gluten allergies and sensitivity are often misdiagnosed and left untreated.
Symptoms and signs of gluten allergies and sensitivity include:
- Abdominal pain
- Itchy skin or rash
- Unexplained weight loss or weight gain
- Breathing problems
- Joint pain
- Mood shifts
- Sleep disturbance
- Generally feeling unwell
More and more research shows that gluten sensitivity is frequently overlooked by doctors as a potential cause of these health issues. If you are sensitive to gluten or have Celiac disease, you’re likely to experience a combination of these or other symptoms.
Especially confusing to those suffering from gluten-related sensitivities is that symptoms may seem unrelated to one another and not likely caused by the food you’ve eaten.
Treating Gluten: Related Health Issues
Understanding that gluten can cause unexplained illness is the first step toward in knowing whether it might in fact be the source of your symptoms.
Eliminating Celiac disease as a cause of illness is critical; undiagnosed, the damage from Celiac disease will progress and your health will deteriorate. If you’ve been experiencing unexplained and increasingly serious health problems for a long time, getting tested for Celiac disease is a wise choice.
Celiac testing, which includes blood tests and sometimes a biopsy of the small intestine, may save your life if you are suffering from the disease. A lifelong diet completely free of gluten is mandatory for those suffering from Celiac disease.
While Celiac disease is not uncommon, gluten sensitivities are more often caused by intolerance or allergies. Currently, no tests are available to diagnose gluten allergies or intolerance. Eliminating gluten from your diet is the only way to know whether gluten may be the cause of ongoing health problems.
Adjusting to a gluten-free diet may take some time, but know that everyday more and more gluten-free food products are available to help you make the transition. Going gluten-free is also a great opportunity to add fruits, vegetables and other gluten-free healthful foods to your daily diet.