So many times I’ve heard the following “oh I definitely do not have a gluten sensitivity – I feel totally fine when I eat it”, or “I cut it out and didn’t notice any significant difference in how I felt.”
I used to eat mountains of spaghetti and certainly never had any noticeable GI issues as a result. I was also so used to how I felt eating it regularly that I really didn’t notice that it wasn’t doing my body any good. I ignored my thyroid issues and pretended my brain fog was just me feeling tired. I *really* did not want to know if I had any intolerance to the stuff because I loved it so SO much and there was no way on earth anyone was gonna get me to give up my favorite foods. It wasn’t until I decided that actually my health was worth more than my love for spaghetti and bread that I finally accepted that this was not something I could play around with any more and I tried cutting it out 100%, along with other processed, inflammatory foods.
Since then I have people tell me all the time how they feel bad for me and how lucky they are that they, themselves, do not have any such allergies. Well, I have news for you, you may very well have food intolerances that you are completely unaware of. I’ve written about it before, but I can’t stress it enough, food intolerances (especially for things like gluten) manifest more frequently with NO DISCERNIBLE digestive issues whatsoever. Obviously if you have something like Ulcerative Colitis or any form of IBS then it is obvious there is an issue, but in 70% of gluten intolerances, you can eat pasta and bread and feel no ill effects in your tummy at all. Sure you may feel a little bloated, but no pain or digestive issues to speak of. I certainly had none.
But, as I’ve said before, gluten actually has a bigger effect on the tissues OUTSIDE of the gut than on the gut itself. It could be affecting your brain/neurological system, your joints, your thyroid, energy levels, skin, etc. But because your tummy feels ok, you can happily claim you are absolutely fine with it.
So how would you know if you (or your child) does have an intolerance? If you have any of the following symptoms there is a good chance that you do:
1. Distended tummy
For adults, bloating is often so common that we stop noticing it anymore – it becomes normal to not have a flat stomach. In children, however, it is more obvious. I know this can often be looked at as “cute baby fat” by parents, and yes, little kids can be a little chubby as they grow into their skins, but it is not normal for a toddler to have a protruding or distended tummy. This is almost always a sign of something else going on – the most common of which being a food intolerance. It is a very common tell-tale sign your child is intolerant to something, and that is very likely to be wheat, and often dairy (especially processed pasteurized dairy). In adults, having a “wheat belly” is a pretty clear indication that what you are eating is not doing you any good.
2. You (or you child) has an insatiable appetite when it comes to things like crackers/cereal/pasta
As we have discussed before, modern wheat has drug-like properties which stimulate opiate-receptors in our brains. We all respond to these (which is why I recommend everyone cutting wheat out in general), but in people with intolerances, this is much stronger and explains why a child will (often vehemently) insist on MORE when it comes to “foods” like crackers, pasta, bread etc. I was the same when I ate wheat – nothing I ate was ever enough and I’d constantly crave more.
It is also why most people will dig their heals in and bury their heads in the sand in absolute unwillingness to accept that they may have an issue with it. Any food you find that hard to give up is likely to be having a less than positive effect on your body.
3. Behavioral problems
Gluten has been repeatedly linked to behavioral issues. There are also strong links to conditions such as ADHD (attention deficit disorder) in both adults and children, autism and other more common-place behavioral problems. This is especially noticeable in children. So, before worrying that your parenting skills are maybe not quite up to scratch because your little one is repeatedly acting up, maybe look at what you are feeding them first.
Gluten has a profound effect on our neurological systems. “Gluten sensitivity leads to the destruction of brain and nervous tissue more than ANY other tissue in the body, including the gastrointestinal tract” -The Gluten Syndrome: A Neurological Disease
4. Fatigue or feeling tired all the time.
If this happens directly after a meal (ever feel the need for a post lunch nap?) it’s a pretty obvious sign that whatever you ate is not having a good effect on your body. For many people, however, the fatigue manifests more persistently throughout the day, often leading to brain-fog or that afternoon “slump” so many people assume is just normal.
Chronic tiredness is often a sign of systemic inflammation, usually triggered by food or by improper thyroid function. There is a very strong link between the thyroid health and gluten sensitivity, so if you have thyroid issues (particularly if they are autoimmune in nature, which is the most common) you are almost certainly gluten intolerant.
5. Gas, constipation or diarrhea
Do you (or your child) eliminate regularly? Or is it less/more frequent than normal. If so, this is a sign of some abnormality in their digestion. Watch when this happens – is it after a wheat exposure? Same thing to observe in yourself. This is obviously a more obvious sign of an intolerance, but people still often don’t make the connection. Also, whilst occasional gas is normal, regularly feeling gassy after meals is not. This is a sign your body is having trouble digesting whatever it is you ate.
6. Diagnosis of autoimmune conditions
These can include conditions such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, Ulcerative Colitis, Psoriasis, Lupus, Scleroderma or Multiple Sclerosis. As I said above, almost all autoimmune diseases are triggered by and very much exacerbated by gluten.
If you are already diagnosed with any of these and continue to eat foods containing gluten (or any other trigger) it is likely that, over the course of your lifetime, your body will succumb to other (and often more serious) autoimmune issues. It is thus imperative that anyone with any autoimmune issues whatsoever first clean up their diet before looking to medication to alleviate their symptoms.
7. Hormone imbalances
(p>Conditions such as PMS, PCOS or unexplained infertility are very commonly linked to what we eat. Incidences of gluten intolerance are far more prevalent amongst women with unexplained infertility. It is also related to recurrent miscarriages and cases of PCOS. In addition to gluten, foods such as low fat pasteurized dairy, soy, refined sugar and industrial seed oils are all linked to reproductive malfunctions.(source)
8. Systemic inflammation
Conditions such as swelling or pain in joints such as knees, hips or fingers are hugely triggered by inflammatory foods. In addition to sugar and industrial seed oils (what most people use to cook with), gluten provokes an extremely inflammatory response in the body. This can manifest as mild swelling or joint pain, or can result in more serious conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
9. Mood issues
Anxiety, depression, mood swings or inability to focus/concentrate may be a sign that you are suffering from a food intolerance. As stated above, gluten affects the brain more prevalently than any other tissue in the body.
10. Migraine headaches
Wheat and gluten are among the biggest causes of migraine headaches. (source)
So let’s say you or your child is experiencing one or more of these symptoms, what do you do about it?
Unfortunately standard blood tests available from most doctors will only identify a small portion of people who suffer from celiac disease. Most people with gluten sensitivities will not be diagnosed using these tests and will walk away thinking they’re in the all-clear when, in fact, they are gluten intolerant. The only thorough test currently available for gluten sensitivities is one carried out by Cyrex Labs.
For those of us not necessarily wanting to fork out a lot of money for expensive testing, trying an elimination diet (such as the Whole 30) is a great way to determine how your body reacts to foods like wheat. This requires eliminating gluten and other cross-reactive inflammatory foods from the diet 100% for period of time. Unfortunately, for most people with a real intolerance, 30 days is not nearly enough to truly see any improvements, since the body can take months (or in some cases even years) to clear the system. I know my body took about 6 months before I saw any marked improvements to the way I felt.
I’ve said this before, and I will say this again, gluten is not healthy for anyone to eat, even those without any discernible intolerances. And so, in my opinion, eliminating it will only do your body good.
Just as a reminder, these are just a few conditions linked to eating gluten: A review paper in The New England Journal of Medicine listed 55 “diseases” that can be caused by eating gluten. These include osteoporosis, irritable bowel disease, inflammatory bowel disease, anemia, cancer, fatigue, canker sores, and rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and almost all other autoimmune diseases. Gluten is also linked to many psychiatric and neurological diseases, including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, dementia, migraines, epilepsy, and neuropathy (nerve damage). It has also been linked to autism. (source)
I know I go on about gluten a lot, but that is because it is so nefarious in its effects on the body. Modern wheat contains far higher amounts of gluten than the original grain and this is why it is starting to become such a problem. Our bodies are not designed to cope with this genetically modified grain that did not exist 70 years ago. Whether you are obviously intolerant or not, cutting it out of your diet will make you healthier. Period.