How Does Gluten Intolerance Affect the Body?

Symptoms can range from digestive, mood to auto-immune disorders.

Gluten intolerance explained

A wheat-related disorder, gluten intolerance is a common health condition with symptoms including abdominal pain, bloating, constipation and diarrhoea. Because its symptoms closely mimic that of other digestive disorders, aside from it being a newly-recognised condition, gluten intolerance can be difficult to diagnose.

Gluten is made up of two protein groups – gliadin and glutenin – with the former found to be the culprit behind most of the discomfort gluten-sensitive individuals suffer from. Gluten is commonly found in grains, with wheat being the most frequently consumed of them all. Barley, rye, and baked food products such as bread and cracker biscuits, pastas as well as seasonings and spices, all contain gluten.

From head to toe, for some

Gluten intolerance – or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, to be specific – can affect your body in more ways than one. Aside from digestive symptoms, gluten intolerance may present itself through neurological conditions such as anxiety, brain fog and depression, and physical issues such as numbness in your arms or legs, joint and muscle pain and skin rashes.

The time it takes for these symptoms to manifest ranges from person to person, with some experiencing an almost instantaneous surge of reactions right after consuming gluten. Symptoms can last for a day or more, depending on the individual’s level of intolerance.

Here’s the catch: majority of the human population can digest gluten without experiencing any discomfort whatsoever, proving why a gluten-free diet is not suited for everyone.

Is it gluten intolerance or celiac disease?

One thing healthcare professionals look out for when a patient comes to them with gluten intolerance symptoms is whether the patient has gluten intolerance, or its most severe condition called celiac disease.

Differentiating the two conditions is rather tricky as they share the same symptoms: patients diagnosed with celiac disease were found to have experienced the same digestive, physical and neurological symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, joint and muscle pain, and brain fog that gluten-sensitive individuals also experience.

Gluten is the officially recognised culprit behind celiac disease. Diagnostic tests are performed to rule out this lifelong, auto-immune disease that affects 1% of the population. Patients diagnosed with celiac disease who still consume gluten have a higher risk for damaging their digestive system which may result in malnutrition. It is presently managed through dietary treatments.

Always speak with a gluten expert

Speaking with a qualified healthcare professional is critical if you think you may be sensitive to gluten: you wouldn’t want to receive a wrong diagnosis and restrict your diet for nothing!

The fact that gluten intolerance has several symptoms that overlap with other disorders make it difficult to diagnose, but medical experts, nutritionists and dietitians are in the best position to help you receive an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment plan.