Gluten and its many variations can cause simple digestive sensitivities, or serious conditions like celiac disease. Let’s take a look at some of the common problems wheat and gluten cause, and the chemical process which causes these issues.

Celiac Disease

This is an autoimmune reaction which occurs in about 3% of the population. As many as 30 or 40 people out of every 100 have the genetic makeup to possibly develop celiac disease, but only about 3 out of every 100 develop this condition. Doctors are not sure why this happens in some and not in others, but as with many health conditions, the issue starts in your gut.

What also puzzles doctors as far as celiac disease is concerned is the fact that it can develop at any age. You may test negative at age 40, only to test positive 5 years later.

In those that develop celiac disease, their immune system recognizes gluten as an enemy. These people cannot process this protein properly, and eating anything with even small amounts of gluten can cause the following symptoms:

  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Constipation
  • Vomiting
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain and bloating
  • Behavioral issues
  • Defects in dental enamel
  • Short physical stature
  • Delayed puberty and growth
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

All in all, there are more than 200 symptoms of celiac disease. If you develop this condition as an adult, there is a strong likelihood you will have few or no digestive symptoms. However, you may experience the following issues.

  • Pain in your joints and bones
  • Arthritis
  • Bone loss, osteoporosis or osteopenia
  • Liver tract disorders, like fatty liver
  • Anxiety and depression
  • A numbness or tingling in your hands and feet
  • Infertility
  • Irregular menstrual periods
  • Migraines or seizures
  • Canker sores

If the symptoms unfortunately look familiar, talk to your doctor. A simple blood test is all that is needed to see if celiac disease is suggested. If this is the case, a biopsy of your small intestine is usually required to confirm the diagnosis.

Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS)

As the name implies, if you have NCGS, you don’t have celiac disease. What happens in this case is the development of symptoms identical to those listed above. This is sometimes referred to as non-celiac wheat sensitivity (NCWS), because some nutritionists and doctors believe that wheat is the problem, not necessarily gluten. As with celiac disease, the person’s body cannot properly process compounds in wheat or gluten.

This triggers an immune system response, and intestinal cell damage can occur. Doctors don’t fully understand why people without celiac disease can develop NCGS, but in these individuals, removal of gluten and wheat products immediately reduces or entirely eliminates symptoms.

Gluten Ataxia

This is a rather rare disorder. As with celiac disease, it is an autoimmune response to gluten. Irreversible damage can occur to your cerebellum with gluten ataxia. The cerebellum is an area of your brain which regulates motor movements. That means that gluten ataxia can negatively affect your balance and coordination, speech and posture, and muscular activity.

This condition was only discovered in the first part of the 21st century, so doctors and nutritionists are still in the learning phase as far as why it develops. Some physicians disagree this condition even exists. They diagnose some other type of disorder or disease when certain symptoms are present. There is no accepted or agreed-upon way to test for gluten ataxia or to diagnose it, so an avoidance of wheat and gluten is the best policy for prevention. Again, it bears repeating that this is an extremely rare condition.

Wheat Allergy

An allergic reaction to wheat is one of the 8 most common food allergies in the United States. This condition is also common in other countries where wheat is consumed in large quantities. Sometimes simply inhaling wheat flour can cause a reaction. Wheat is found in many bread products and other foods, and the simplest treatment for a wheat allergy is avoiding wheat.

Symptoms sometimes cause a misdiagnosis, since they are often similar to celiac disease. However, a wheat allergy is simply an allergic reaction to some of the proteins found in wheat. This is not an autoimmune response, as in the case of celiac disease. Young children usually outgrow a wheat allergy between the ages of 3 and 5, but children or adults can develop this reaction to wheat.

Symptoms usually appear within a few minutes to a couple of hours after eating something which contained wheat. The following symptoms may appear:

  • Hives, rashes, swelling skin
  • Headache
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Diarrhea
  • Swelling, itching in the mouth or throat
  • Nasal congestion
  • Watery, itchy eyes
  • Nausea or vomiting, stomach cramps
  • Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening condition which requires instant medical attention. In many people, the response to a wheat allergy is immediate, but not very serious. In every situation where an allergy to wheat is present, knowledge of the ingredients of everything that is consumed is crucial.

Intestinal Permeability

The inflammation caused by gluten can also create a condition known as intestinal permeability. When your gut is operating properly, it digests foods and lets nutrients, minerals, vitamins and other needed components pass into your bloodstream. It keeps everything else out, and removes unnecessary items as waste. Wheat and gluten can cause intestinal permeability, which means that your gut allows things to pass into your bloodstream which are harmful.

Here’s a video from Osmosis where they cover the pathophysiology, as well as important clinical sings and symptoms of Celiac disease

Gluten-related inflammation can promote a number of gastrointestinal and gut disorders, autoimmune thyroid disorders, long-term damage to the gut biome, and even brain-based health problems like brain fog, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. A number of skin conditions has been linked to wheat and gluten sensitivities, and type 1 diabetes occurs at a higher rate than normal in gluten-sensitive individuals that do not remove wheat or gluten from their diets.

Gluten Free For Beginners Cover 3DIf you want to learn more about the benefits of reducing or cutting out gluten, we created an e-Book that is free to download about going gluten-free for beginners. You can find more information on what is covered inside this book by reading the following article  here:

How To Go Gluten-Free For Beginners