Surprising signs of gluten intolerance

Anita Harrison
Special to the Lake Sun, USA TODAY NETWORK
Celiac disease is the most severe form of gluten intolerance, and it affects about 1% of the population.

Gluten intolerance is a condition that occurs in individuals who are unable to tolerate gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. This is different from a wheat allergy, where the body reacts to a protein in wheat (not necessarily gluten) and causes life-threatening symptoms. Gluten intolerances are not immediately dangerous, but they can cause discomfort and affect overall health.

Celiac disease is the most severe form of gluten intolerance, and it affects about 1% of the population. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes damage to the digestive system. A milder form of gluten intolerance is gluten sensitivity. With non-Celiac gluten sensitivity, there isn’t usually damage to the intestinal tract, but there are some surprising symptoms. Research estimates that around 18 million Americans have gluten sensitivity.

Here are 10 symptoms of gluten intolerance:

1. Intense bloating. Bloating is when you feel as if your belly is swollen or full of gas after you’ve eaten. Bloating is one of the most common symptoms of gluten intolerance.

2. Diarrhea and/or constipation. Occasionally having diarrhea or constipation is normal, but if it happens regularly, it could be a sign of gluten intolerance. In addition, pale, foul-smelling feces may be a sign of malabsorption.

3. Malabsorption. Over time, the effects of consuming gluten can accumulate and cause your stomach lining to lose its ability to absorb essential nutrients from food. This can lead to low iron levels and other nutritional deficiencies, such as low levels of vitamin B12, zinc and copper.

4. Skin problems. A rash or eczema-like areas on the skin can indicate a problem with gluten.

5. Headaches. A headache starting an hour or two after you eat food that contains gluten is highly indicative of gluten sensitivity, especially if combined with any of the other symptoms.

6. Joint pain. Gluten intolerance can cause an inflammatory response in the body. Inflammation that makes its way to the joints can cause arthritis-like pain.

7. Lactose intolerance. Gluten sensitivity is sometimes found in conjunction with lactose intolerance, or the inability to break down a sugar called lactose found in milk and other dairy products.

8. Chronic fatigue. Feeling tired happens to everyone and usually isn’t linked to any disease. However, if you constantly feel very tired you may need to consider the possibility of gluten intolerance. Iron deficiency from malabsorption can increase feelings of tiredness and lack of energy.

9. Brain fog. Difficulty focusing or concentrating, becoming more forgetful or having mental fatigue is a common symptom of gluten intolerance.

10. Abdominal pain. This is the single most common symptom of gluten intolerance. However, there are many other reasons for abdominal pain.

Most of the symptoms on this list can have numerous other explanations, but if you are experiencing a combination of several of them without an apparent cause, then it could be a sign of gluten sensitivity. There is a definitive test for Celiac disease that involves a blood test to check for certain antibodies, and you might have a biopsy too. However, there is no test to tell if you are simply gluten sensitive or have a milder intolerance to gluten.

The best way to check if your symptoms are related to gluten intolerance is to eliminate all sources of gluten in your diet for a week or two. If you are sensitive to gluten, your symptoms will likely disappear or improve after a few days. You can then try reintroducing gluten slowly to see how much you can tolerate before symptoms return.

Gluten is present in most breads, cookies, pastas and some beers. It can also be found in less obvious products, such as sauces and seasonings, soups, salad dressings and canned foods, so it is important to check labels carefully.

Coconut Brown Rice

Serves 6

1 Tbsp coconut oil

2 medium shallots, sliced into rings

¼ cup unsweetened shredded coconut

½ tsp salt, divided

1 cup long grain brown rice, rinsed

1 14 ounce can light coconut milk

Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring often, until starting to brown, 4-6 minutes. Add coconut, and cook stirring often until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon, and sprinkle with a pinch of salt.

Add rice to the pot, and stir to coat. Add coconut milk and ½ cup water plus ½ tsp salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a low simmer. Cover and cook until rice is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed, about 40-45 minutes. Remove from heat, and let stand, covered for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Serve topped with the coconut/ shallot mixture.

Nutrition Information: 233 calories, 9 g fat, 34 g carbs, 5 g protein, 3 g fiber, 240 mg sodium

Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the Cardiopulmonary Rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Missouri.