Gluten Intolerance – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Management

gluten intolerance

Have you noticed the increase in the number of gluten-free products in the market? You might wonder why and if it affects you. Studies have shown that 1 in 200 people suffer from various degrees of gluten intolerance. So, what is gluten intolerance and how can you manage it? Read on to know about gluten intolerance  symptoms,  causes, diagnosis and much more!

First thing first, what is gluten?

Gluten is a protein present in cereal grains such as wheat, which provides elasticity to the dough. Gluten helps food maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds them together. Of all the gluten-containing grains, wheat is the most widely consumed. Other gluten-containing grains are barley, rye, oats, and other similar derivatives.

Gluten is also found in other products such as:

  • Bread
  • Cracker-type biscuits
  • Pasta
  • Seasonings
  • Spices

Some people experience side-effects when they consume gluten. These may include:

  • It affects normal digestion and can cause symptoms like bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhea.
  • Gluten can also damage the gut lining and cause “leaky gut syndrome” and autoimmune reactions in some cases.
  • It binds to certain amino acids (proteins), essential vitamins and minerals and reduces their absorption

What is Gluten intolerance and what causes it?

A gluten-related disorder refers to all diseases triggered by gluten. It includes gluten ataxia, dermatitis herpetiformis (DH), celiac disease (CD), non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) and wheat allergy. “Gluten intolerance” and “gluten sensitivity” are sometimes used interchangeably for gluten-related disorders.


People with gluten sensitivity experience symptoms after ingesting gluten. The exact cause behind gluten sensitivity is still not clear. Gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance is different from celiac disease and wheat allergy. In gluten sensitivity also known as “non-celiac” gluten sensitivity (NCGS), people usually do not show any changes in their gut lining or produce antibodies against the body’s own tissues.

There are multiple factors that can cause gluten intolerance, such as:

  • overall diet and nutrient density
  • damage to the gut flora
  • immune status of the body
  • genetic factors
  • hormones

How is gluten intolerance different from celiac disease?

Celiac disease is a severe form of gluten intolerance. Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition where eating gluten triggers an immune response which damages the small intestine.

Symptoms of celiac disease include malnutrition, stunted growth, weight loss, diarrhea, fatigue, nausea, heartburn, indigestion or vomiting, abdomen or joint pains. However, even when someone tests negative for celiac disease, there’s still a chance he or she can have a gluten intolerance. In other words, it’s possible to have gluten intolerance symptoms without having celiac disease.

Even though people with NCGS don’t have celiac disease, they feel better when they avoid gluten. Since different people can react negatively to gluten to different degrees, some common factors that usually apply to people suffering from NCGS and not celiac disease are:

  • Tests negative for celiac disease despite having similar symptoms
  • Report experiencing both gastrointestinal and non-gastrointestinal symptoms
  • Experience improvements in symptoms when following a gluten-free diet

So, what are the main symptoms?

Some common symptoms of gluten intolerance are:

  • Bloating
  • Belly pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Feeling unwell, including tiredness

Few other symptoms may include:

  • Stomach pain (more specific than belly pain)
  • Anxiety
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Numbness
  • Joint or muscle pain

The same symptoms can also occur with celiac disease, so it’s important that you get the correct diagnosis.

How is it diagnosed?

There is no test to diagnose NCGS. Gluten sensitivity can be diagnosed by the process of elimination. The individual first needs to get tested for a wheat allergy and for celiac disease. If both of those are negative, then the doctor may recommend the person to follow a gluten-free diet. If symptoms improve on a gluten-free diet, then NCGS is confirmed.


Why is gluten intolerance skyrocketing?

Here are some popular theories surrounding gluten intolerance:

  • Modifications in wheat grains to make them drought-resistant and easy to bake have not been well-adapted by the digestive system of our body. These changes in wheat quality and increased wheat consumption in the past decade are considered to be the reason behind the increasing prevalence of gluten intolerance.
  • Damaged gut flora or dysbiosis is also on the rise due to increased consumption of antibiotics or poor diet. The immune system may see the undigested gluten particles are a microbial invader and attack them.

How to overcome gluten intolerance?

Cutting out gluten from your diet completely may seem like a difficult and daunting task. Fortunately, there are many gluten-free alternatives available in the market today.

Include these naturally gluten-free food groups in your diet:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Legumes
  • Meat
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs

Pure wheat grass and barley grass are gluten-free but the seeds may contain gluten. These following grains and other starch-containing foods are naturally gluten-free – rice and corn (maize), soy, potato, beans, sorghum, quinoa, millet, flax, chia, gluten-free oats, and nut flours.


Thus, make sure you read labels to check for gluten-containing products. Today gluten-free alternatives are available in abundance, including gluten-free bread, cereals, and baked goods.

Disclaimer: Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care providers with any questions you have regarding a medical condition, before undertaking any diet, exercise, other health programs.

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