Medical tests often fail when it comes to determining gluten intolerance (gluten intolerance). The result is often negative, while those affected continue to suffer from a multitude of symptoms and are often labelled as psychosomatic patients.
Do you also suffer from gluten intolerance? Maybe without you knowing? We present six common symptoms that are often associated with gluten sensitivity but are not recognized as such and as a result are treated incorrectly or not at all.
Gluten Intolerance – The Unrecognized Torment
Gluten intolerance can manifest itself in many symptoms. Usually, it is indigestion, often headaches, frequent concentration disorders and not infrequently overweight that simply cannot be reduced.
Unfortunately, gluten intolerance is still not part of the usual diagnostic repertoire of most doctors – although more and more people are struggling with undetected gluten intolerance and struggle through everyday life more than feeling good due to the variety of symptoms typical of gluten intolerance.
Symptoms for no reason? – A field report
Marika suffered from indigestion for many years and received the not very hopeful diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome, which indicates a complex of symptoms for which conventional medicine knows neither causes nor remedies. A doctor never thought of gluten intolerance.
Since Marika could hardly ever sleep through the night, was often plagued by migraine attacks, felt pains here and there without ever finding a cause for it; a certain melancholy developed as a result of all these physical impairments; after a long odyssey from doctor to doctor almost a year ago she finally got a diagnosis: but it wasn’t gluten intolerance, it was fibromyalgia.
Unfortunately, this diagnosis did not change anything about her condition. Marika’s symptoms were still there and the prescribed medication (antidepressants, painkillers and sleeping pills) had little or only a short-term effect, on the contrary, they also brought side effects.
Heat treatments, cold applications, mud baths, acupressure, Guaifenesin* etc. – Marika has tried all the alternatives recommended for fibromyalgia – without success.
*Guaifenesin is actually an expectorant cough medicine that, according to an American doctor’s theory, is also said to be helpful in some cases with fibromyalgia.
Six months ago, Marika read an article about possible signs of gluten intolerance. Fascinated, she recognized herself in all the listed symptoms. IBS-like problems could be triggered by gluten sensitivity, it said.
In addition, gluten intolerance can lead to migraines, depression, sleep disorders and many other symptoms in some people. However, there was nothing to read about fibromyalgia. Or is it? Isn’t fibromyalgia exactly what was described there?
A collection of symptoms without a known cause can also be quite individual for each person affected.
Marika immediately made an appointment with her doctor and asked him to test for gluten intolerance. It took a lot of persuasions because her doctor initially saw no reason for such a test.
Eventually, however, he relented, and Marika eagerly awaited the result – full of hope that she would finally be able to put an end to the spook and soon be able to live normally and without any symptoms again. Then the disappointment: negative, no gluten intolerance.
On the way home, however, Marika decided to change her diet. It couldn’t hurt, she thought, if she just lived gluten-free for a while.
In fact, the gluten-free diet really didn’t hurt her. Even more: Marika already felt much better on the third day with a gluten-free diet. Her irritable bowel seemed to have calmed down noticeably.
She also slept better at night and felt mentally more alert and productive during the day. Could she have suffered from gluten intolerance?
After a total of four weeks, her digestion had almost normalized. And while she usually had a migraine attack almost weekly, that had happened only once in the past month on the new diet—and with noticeably less intensity.
She was in pain only rarely and her depression gave way to a refreshing exhilaration due to the sudden recovery.
Now six months after Marika changed her diet, she is doing better than ever. She no longer has migraines. Indigestion and aches seem to have evaporated and her mood is that of a life-affirming woman.
Marika still doesn’t touch products with wheat or gluten and it will stay that way. She remembered the indefinable pain – sometimes in the joints, sometimes in the muscles – all too well.
The migraines, the sleepless nights and the hopelessness after every visit to the doctor are not so easy to forget. Marika is sure that she is gluten intolerant.
How is it that gluten – a protein complex found in some grains – is causing all these symptoms? And how can it be that the test for gluten intolerance came back negative when it was clearly the gluten that was causing the symptoms?
What is gluten?
Gluten is a mixture of different proteins found not only in wheat but also in many other types of grain, e.g. in spelt, rye, oats and in barley. A number of so-called ancient grains such as spelt, Kamut and emmer also contain gluten.
For the grain, gluten is a storage protein that provides the seedling with nutrients during the germination process. In the human bakery, on the other hand, gluten ensures that the bread holds together nicely during baking.
It’s the glue. For this reason, binding agents are regularly added to bread recipes with gluten-free cereals or pseudo-cereals, which are supposed to take over the adhesive properties of the missing gluten.
Gluten-free cereals include millet, teff (a type of millet) and rice, as well as the pseudo-cereals quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat.
Gluten now consists of two groups, the so-called prolamins and the glutelins. These differ slightly in their structure depending on the type of grain and are then given different names.
The glutenins typical of wheat are called glutenin.
The prolamins are called gliadin in wheat, avenin in oats and secalinin in rye. And these substances can now be subdivided even further: because there is not just one single gliadin in wheat, but many different ones, namely alpha, beta, gamma and omega gliadin.
Testing for gluten intolerance often pointless
The usual tests for gluten intolerance only look for a single “substance”, namely antibodies against gliadin in the alpha or beta variant. However, gluten contains many more risky substances, such as the wheat germ agglutinin, the gluteomorphin (also called gliadorphin, which is only produced during the digestion of gliadin), then the glutenin and also the omega or gamma gliadin.
Each individual or a combination of these substances can also lead to intolerance reactions. As a result, it is entirely possible to have gluten sensitivity even if the standard gluten intolerance test comes back negative.
Gluten Sensitivity or Gluten Intolerance – What’s the Difference?
At this point, you might be wondering what the difference is between gluten sensitivity and gluten intolerance. The good news is that both terms can refer to the same phenomenon.
Mostly, however, “gluten intolerance” is used as a generic term for all intolerance reactions that can occur in connection with gluten. This includes both celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.
While the diagnosis of celiac disease – an autoimmune disease – can be made with relative certainty based on a biopsy and certain blood markers, gluten sensitivity is not quite as easy due to the difficulties mentioned above with regard to the gluten intolerance test.
The wide range of symptoms of gluten sensitivity does not exactly make the diagnosis easier. Symptoms of gluten sensitivity can also include digestive disorders, but also headaches, exhaustion, trouble sleeping, feeling foggy, trouble concentrating, ADHD, ADD, autism symptoms, mood swings, dizziness or being overweight that just won’t go away despite your best efforts.
Gluten intolerance can also lead to (further) autoimmune diseases or worsen them. These include e.g. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (chronic thyroid inflammation) or rheumatoid arthritis.
For the sake of completeness, the wheat allergy, which often affects small children, should also be mentioned. In this case, the allergic reaction is directed exclusively against wheat proteins, not necessarily also against proteins from other types of grain.
A generally gluten-free diet can therefore not always help here, since wheat contains gluten as well as other proteins that can have an allergenic effect.
However, just like gluten sensitivity, the symptoms of wheat allergy can be very different and range as far as neurodermatitis and epilepsy.
The diagnosis is made by detecting corresponding IgE antibodies, which are typical of immediate-type allergies. Here the symptoms usually appear within a few minutes after the consumption of the relevant allergen (here wheat ).
In the case of gluten sensitivity, on the other hand, symptoms can also occur with a time lag, i.e. a few days later, which makes it all the more difficult to recognize a connection – both for the patient and for the doctor.
Gluten sensitivity affects many people – very few people know about it
Gluten sensitivity affects many people – and most are unaware of it. We have already mentioned the reasons for this above: Gluten sensitivity manifests itself in symptoms that could also belong to many other diseases and which often do not appear immediately after gluten consumption, as with an immediate-type allergy, but only later.
Furthermore, since the symptoms can take on different forms and dimensions in every person, it is hardly possible to draw a hundred percent conclusion about gluten sensitivity based on the symptoms alone.
Six Gluten Symptoms
We’ll first introduce you to six common symptoms that can accompany gluten sensitivity and then give you tips on how you can be sure whether you – if you suffer from these (or other mysterious symptoms) – are dealing with gluten sensitivity or not.
Sometimes the symptoms only last a few hours. In some other cases, the symptoms persist for many weeks and have even become chronic.
Digestive problems are one of the most common symptoms of gluten intolerance. These include bloating and gas that doesn’t go away, abdominal cramps without medical evidence, constipation, diarrhea, or both.
Frequently, people with these symptoms – if no physical causes can be found with the usual diagnostic methods – are considered by the doctor with the diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome.
Migraines and depression
While digestive problems usually raise the suspicion that diet could be involved in their development, this is rarely the case with headaches and migraines. Even some migraine experts claim that an association between certain foods and a headache attack is merely imaginary or the patient’s wrong conclusions.
Whether it is the imagination that migraines often occur in those patients who are prone to blood sugar fluctuations or a correspondingly high-sugar diet, in patients who are sensitive to foods rich in histamine (mature cheese, wine, smoked fish, etc.) or in patients who can’t tolerate caffeine, in the absence of scientific evidence – it can be doubted.
However, the connection between gluten and headache cannot be doubted.
Several studies have already shown that gluten intolerance is not just a problem that wreaks havoc in the gut, but rather is a disease that can lead to clear neurological disorders, including headaches.
For example, Dr. Rodney Ford of the Children’s Hospital for Gastroenterology and Allergy in Christchurch, New Zealand, writes in his work ” The Gluten Syndrome: A Neurological Disease “, that gluten damages the nervous system in both celiac disease and gluten sensitivity and thus triggers neurological symptoms. In his summary he states the following:
Gluten can cause neurological damage due to a combination of cross-reacting antibodies, serum sickness, and direct toxicity. This damage can manifest itself in a regulatory disorder of the autonomic nervous system, in cerebellar ataxia (disorders of movement originating in the brain), in hypotension (low blood pressure), in developmental and learning disorders (in children), in depressions, as well as migraines and headaches.
he says further:
It is pointless to try to explain the variety of symptoms of gluten-sensitive people with intestinal damage and nutrient deficiencies, when gluten is the main culprit in this suffering, which is called “gluten syndrome”.
Tingling and numbness in arms and legs
Dizziness, balance disorders and feelings of weakness, tingling or numbness in the arms and legs also indicate disorders in the nervous system and can therefore indicate gluten sensitivity.
Even autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s chronic thyroid inflammation or rheumatoid arthritis – can be a sign of gluten sensitivity or be seriously worsened by such.
Fibromyalgia is probably not a disease, but a complex of symptoms with an unknown cause. Similar to irritable bowel syndrome, the fibromyalgia diagnosis could in some cases be nothing more than a diagnosis of embarrassment because no explanation can be found for the existing symptoms.
But does being told you have muscle and connective tissue pain really help? The term “fibromyalgia” means nothing else. “Fibro” means connective tissue, “myo” means muscles and “algia” means pain.
But how would you feel if your symptoms—whatever you call them—were nothing more than the consequences of an unrecognized gluten sensitivity? What if your symptoms improved noticeably when you changed your diet?
What if you really didn’t need antidepressants, muscle relaxants, painkillers, etc., but rather needed a gluten-free diet due to your gluten sensitivity?
In his dissertation from 2005 at the medical faculty of the University of Munich, Dr. medical Mario Krause started a project with fibromyalgia patients who followed an elimination diet and reported on their condition at regular intervals.
Krause wrote that he was motivated to undertake such a project by previous studies of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and food intolerance, and by the work of Enestrom.
The latter was able to demonstrate increased IgG antibody deposits in the skin of fibromyalgia patients so that one can assume that fibromyalgia is linked to food allergies or is at least aggravated by them.
Conventional medicine, however, does not think much of a connection between IgG antibodies and certain chronic complaints, and in most cases, it even advises against dietary restrictions, as these are pointless.
68 patients who had suffered from medically diagnosed fibromyalgia for an average of 10 years were now taking part in Krause’s project. After 8 weeks, in which they eliminated those foods from their diet against which IgG antibodies had been found (= elimination diet), only 25% of the patients complained of muscle pain. At the beginning of the study, it was 66%. Initially, 63% slept very badly, after 8 weeks of dieting it was only 22%. Joint pain accompanied 54% of the patients before the study, after 8 weeks only 29%.
All other symptoms also improved significantly, whether migraines, depression, irritable bladder, word-finding disorders, back pain, painful menstrual periods, tingling or numb feet, tinnitus, dry mucous membranes, swollen hands, feet and face, etc.
The patients did not only follow a gluten-free diet, but an elimination diet, which means that they also avoided other foods that had turned out to be problematic for them personally in the IgG test.
However, since gluten is one of the most common allergens, it is worth starting with a gluten-free and ideally also a dairy-free diet, especially for people who do not want to/cannot do an IgG test.
Some people constantly feel exhausted, others regularly become dead tired after eating and are initially unable to do anything. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a common term used to describe people whose day-to-day lives are hampered by constant fatigue.
However, many alternative medicine practitioners do not refer to this syndrome as a disease, just like fibromyalgia (a symptom complex that can also include fatigue). Finally, CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) is again just the name of a condition and doesn’t offer a clue as to possible causes.
Incidentally, constant tiredness is one of the symptoms that can disappear most quickly if you are gluten-sensitive after switching to a gluten-free diet.
In the project mentioned above, before the change in diet, 60% of the patients were chronically tired during the day and 42% suffered from a lack of drive. After 8 weeks, only 22% described themselves as tired and only 17% as weak.
Do you also suffer from gluten intolerance?
If you have one or more of these symptoms, or if they occur intermittently, and you regularly eat gluten-containing foods, then your symptoms may actually be gluten-related.
But how can you find out if you are gluten intolerant?
First, write down every single symptom you see about yourself—both sporadic and chronic. Be sure to write down all of your current symptoms, including those that you don’t associate with gluten that we didn’t list here.
So don’t rule out certain symptoms from the outset because you suspect other causes. It’s still possible that gluten is to blame.
So, for example, if you have back pain, write the back pain down on your list—even if you initially think it’s just because you’re sedentary.
Do the 60-day trial!
Then, for a period of 60 days, eliminate all products from your diet that contain gluten. Don’t just cut out gluten-containing bread and gluten-containing pasta. Also keep in mind that gluten can be found in many processed foods as a food additive, such as: in many sweets and even in sausage.
So read the ingredient lists carefully when shopping and also ask in the restaurant whether the dish you have ordered is gluten-free.
Do you feel queasy at the thought of the 60-day trial? Do you doubt you can do it? You don’t feel like missing out on your breakfast rolls. And somehow you don’t think that your “so healthy” homemade wholemeal bread could harm you either?
All of these doubtful thoughts could point to an intolerance. We are often addicted to those things that are particularly harmful to us and against which our body has been desperately defending itself for a long time.
Take the test! It’s only 60 days! You can do it!
If your symptoms remain the same, you most likely do not have gluten sensitivity or your diet still contains gluten – for example in processed foods – that you have missed.
If your symptoms go away or improve, then you are gluten sensitive and it is worth sticking to the gluten-free diet.
Are your symptoms going away, but still can’t quite believe that the gluten-free diet is a credit to it? After all, that could also be a coincidence, right?
Then do the cross-check after the 60-days. It is now best to eat some gluten-containing products in every meal. Your body will usually show you after the first gluten day that it would rather be fed gluten-free again.
The gluten-free diet
A gluten-free diet excludes wheat, rye, barley, spelt, kamut, oats, emmer and any products containing these grains. Keep in mind that ready-to-eat products that don’t immediately come to mind can contain flour and grains, such as instant soups, sauces, salad dressings, chocolate bars and much more.
On the other hand, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, amaranth, rice, corn and of course tigernuts, chestnuts, teff flour and nut flours are gluten-free. Tigernuts (also called chufas), almonds, brown millet flakes and chestnuts can be used to conjure up very delicious meals – check some out in our recipe section.