It can be hard to pinpoint the source of feeling unwell, especially when we feel like we’ve made no major changes to our lifestyle. There isn’t always an obvious culprit or diagnosis of why we’re feeling unwell—and unfortunately even troubling symptoms can begin to feel like our norm. Many may not be aware that there may be hidden signs that we are suffering from food sensitivities. These sensitivities can cause damage to our bodies (not to mention our overall morale) if left untreated.
Gluten/wheat is often the cause of these hidden food sensitivities, and more people are being diagnosed with gluten-related disorders.1 Whether you have undiagnosed celiac disease (CD) or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), it’s important to be aware of the signs so that diet adjustment or treatment can be initiated.
Common Source of Food Sensitivities
Gluten is a common source of food sensitivities. Gluten is found regularly in a standard diet in the form of wheat, barley, and rye products. In a person with celiac disease, an autoimmune reaction is triggered which can damage the small intestine, increase intestinal permeability2, and cause other health issues, including severe stomach pain, muscle cramps, joint pain, and skin rash. More than two million Americans have been diagnosed with celiac disease.3
Meanwhile, it’s estimated that non-celiac gluten sensitivity affects about 13%4 of the population. NCGS can cause diarrhea, gas, bloating, and fatigue, and can also be confused with or be the cause of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)5.
These disorders can wreak havoc on our system. Confirming if one has a gluten sensitivity is vital to ensuring we can adjust our diet not only to feel better but to protect our bodies.
Hidden Signs of Wheat/Gluten Sensitivity
Here are some things to look out for when determining if CD or NCGS are at play:
Abdominal issues – Digestive distress goes hand in hand with CD or NCGS. If you notice abdominal pain or discomfort after eating—including bloating, gas, diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, or nausea—it’s possible that the cause was consumption of gluten (or other non-gluten components of wheat). These symptoms—in addition to being downright unpleasant—can end up causing damage to the body if left to persist. However, some people with gluten sensitivity have no financial symptoms.
Chronic fatigue – When we don’t feel well and are constantly experiencing abdominal issues or other negative health effects, chronic fatigue is likely to follow, ushering in a lack of energy and overall sluggish and tired feeling.
Malabsorption When gluten attacks the small intestine, it can prevent the absorption of nutrients into the body. This can cause a host of negative affects if left untreated, as the body won’t be able to process the essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients needed to properly function.
Joint pain – As the immune system reacts to gluten, it causes miscommunication with the body and triggers a response to fight the gluten, resulting in inflammation throughout the body, leading to joint pain.
Gluten ataxia (balance problems) – Lipopolysaccharides (LPS) from intestinal permeability (leaky gut) can lead to the breakdown of the blood-brain barrier which shields the brain from toxic compounds. Deterioration of the blood-brain barrier allows toxins to reach the brain and increases the risk of negative neurological impacts such as balance issues.
Depression – Anxiety, irritability, and sometimes ADHD are warning signs for those with CD and NCGS. Symptoms can last for hours to days and can severely impact the mental health of those with gluten sensitivity. When you consider that someone might be eating multiple meals with gluten every day, this can cause prolonged mental health concerns.
Brain fog and cognitive issues – Gluten sensitivity could be the cause of diminished memory, lack of focus, and brain fog. Other neurological impairments6 that could occur are serious cognitive issues. These also would be caused by damage to the blood-brain barriers from intestinal permeability and could even be associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Headaches and migraines Another symptom of gluten sensitivity can be frequent headaches, including debilitating migraines. While many things can cause a headache or migraine, if coupled with other signs from this list, they could potentially be associated with gluten consumption.
Look for the Signs
Getting the proper care and treatment for CD or NCGS is incredibly important to living a healthy life. If left untreated, gluten sensitivity can cause a slew of negative effects on the gut, brain, and overall general health.
A comprehensive wheat/gluten reactivity test can assist in identifying wheat reactivity, NCGS, CD, food opioid reactivity, intestinal barrier damage, and wheat-related autoimmunity. The test can be used when multiple symptoms are present to help confirm gluten or wheat sensitivity. From there, patients and physicians can develop a diet and treatment plan to not only reduce symptoms but to make sure that these concerns are addressed and aren’t left untreated to continue to damage important body functions.
About the author:
Chad Larson, NMD, DC, CCN, CSCS, is an advisor and consultant on the clinical consulting team for Cyrex Laboratories (Phoenix, AZ). Cyrex Laboratories, a clinical laboratory specializing in functional immunology and autoimmunity, has developed a test panel called the Array 3X – Wheat/Gluten Proteome Reactivity And Autoimmunity. This test is a comprehensive wheat/gluten reactivity test, which can assist in identifying wheat reactivity, NCGS, CD, food opioid reactivity, intestinal barrier damage, and wheat-related autoimmunity. The test can be used when multiple symptoms are present to help confirm gluten or wheat sensitivity. Larson holds a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine degree from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and a Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Southern California University of Health Sciences. He is a certified clinical nutritionist and a certified strength and conditioning specialist. He particularly pursues advanced developments in the fields of endocrinology, orthopedics, sports medicine, and environmentally induced chronic disease.
- Leonard MM et al. “Celiac disease and nonceliac gluten sensitivity: A review.” Journal of the American Medical Association, vol. 318, no. 7 (August 15, 2017): 647-656
- Drago S et al. “Gliadin, zonulin and gut permeability: Effects on celiac and non-celiac intestinal mucosa and intestinal cell lines.” Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, vol. 41, no. 4 (April 2006): 408-419
- Johns Hopkins Medicine webpage. “Celiac Disease.”
- Roszkowska A et al. “Non-celiac gluten sensitivity: A review.” Medicina, vol. 55, no. 6 (May 28, 2019): 222
- Catassi C et al. “Non-celiac gluten sensitivity: The new frontier of gluten related disorders.” Nutrients vol. 5, no. 10 (September 26, 2013): 3839-3853
- Hadjivassiliou M et al. “Autoantibodies in gluten ataxia recognize a novel neuronal transglutaminase.” Annals of Neurology, vol. 64, no. 3 (September 2008): 332-343