10 Signs That Gluten Can Actually Harm You

Gluten free word written on flour. Table wooden background.

Gluten-free diets were all the rage for a while, but their star is falling. A 2015 study showed that most gluten sensitivities are entirely psychological and based on the placebo effect, while a 2013 study suggested that others are based on far more complex dietary problems than simply gluten.

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But for about one in every 133 Americans, gluten actually is a serious problem because of celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that can cause you serious harm if you eat gluten.

If you have any of the following symptoms after dropping your gluten-free diet, schedule an appointment with your doctor and stay gluten-free for now; it may be doing you quite a bit of good.

Celiac Disease Explained

Before getting into the symptoms of celiac disease, it’s helpful to know exactly what the disease is. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder, much like arthritis or lupus. The difference is that, while those disorders cause your body’s immune system to react against itself, celiac disease causes your body to react against gluten.

Your immune system mistakenly identifies gluten as an invading virus or bacteria and mounts an attack on your small intestine to defend itself.

Over time, these attacks can cause permanent damage to your small intestine and can lead to other serious diseases such as infertility, early onset osteoporosis, anemia, cancer, and nervous system disorders like epilepsy and dementia.

It’s important to know that celiac disease presents itself differently in different people. One person with celiac disease might have abdominal pain and bloating; another may have almost no digestive symptoms, but another might have anemia and irritability with almost no digestive symptoms.

1. Abdominal Pain, Bloating, And Gas

As you might expect, the general pain and discomfort in your intestinal tract can lead to all sorts of digestive discomfort, including abdominal pain, bloating, and gas. In some people, these symptoms are debilitating; in others, they might feel fairly mild. No matter how much or how little pain you feel, however, celiac disease is still doing harm to your body.

2. Diarrhea

Diarrhea is a more common symptom in children with celiac disease than in adults, but it happens to both. The stool may be extremely watery, and it might be paler and smell worse than you’re used to.

3. Constipation

On the reverse side, celiac disease can sometimes cause constipation rather than diarrhea because the small intestine is having trouble absorbing anything from digested food except for water.

Like diarrhea, constipation is more common in children than adults, but it’s still considered a red flag for celiac disease.

4. Unexplained Weight Loss

If you have trouble keeping weight on when you eat gluten, this may be a sign of celiac disease. Because your small intestine is under attack by your immune system, it’s having difficulty absorbing the calories and nutrients you need, leading to unhealthy levels of weight loss.

If you have a healthy diet but still can’t keep the weight on, this is a definite cause for concern.

5. Fatigue Or Anemia

The malnutrition from celiac disease doesn’t just lead to weight loss; it can also cause you to feel fatigued and weak. This is partly because your body isn’t getting enough nutrition in general and partly from anemia because your small intestine is having trouble absorbing iron.

Anemia may also cause you to be pale and to have cold hands and feet or to feel dizzy and lightheaded. If you’ve suffered from anemia in the past and iron supplements haven’t helped, celiac disease may be the culprit. According to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, unexplained anemia is the most common symptom of celiac disease in adults.

6. Headaches

Just like fatigue, you can find yourself coming down with headaches because of either malnutrition or anemia related to celiac disease. The headaches could be relatively minor, or they could be full-bore migraines.

A 2003 study showed that patients with chronic migraine headaches were 10 times more likely to suffer from celiac disease than the general population, so if you have regular unexplained migraine headaches, your body might be trying to tell you something about your diet.

7. Anxiety And Depression

Studies have shown a link between celiac disease and various mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

Scientists aren’t sure yet whether celiac disease actually causes anxiety in the brain or simply produces anxiety-like symptoms that your brain misinterprets; for instance, lightheadedness and shortness of breath are symptoms of celiac-related anemia, but are also symptoms of an anxiety attack, so you may assume that you’re having those reactions because of your emotional state instead of your physical condition.

With depression, however, the link is stronger. People with celiac disease are nearly twice as likely to suffer from depression as the general population, partly because malnutrition can lead to a shortage of feel-good brain chemicals and partly because foods and supplements with harmful chemicals can leak directly into the bloodstream when the small intestine is damaged.

8. Tingling And Numbness

If you have tingling or numbness in your face, limbs, hands, or feet, it may be a sign that celiac disease is causing serious problems for your nervous system. Tingling or numbness is a possible sign of peripheral neuropathy, a nerve disorder in which your nerves start to send incorrect signals to your brain.

As with anxiety and depression, there isn’t any one reason that celiac disease causes neuropathy; it’s partly because celiac disease prevents your body from properly absorbing certain vitamins connected to neuropathy, and may also be because another autoimmune disease is attacking your nerve cells or because your immune system has mistaken your nerve cells for gluten.

9. Bone, Neck, And Back Pain

If you’re experiencing pain in your bones, your neck, or your lower back for no clear reason, it may be a symptom of osteoporosis, a sign that your body isn’t absorbing enough calcium to give your bones the density they need.10-Signs-That-Gluten-Can-Actually-Harm-You-pin

You may also find that your posture is becoming poor because of weakness in your spine, or you may experience a fracture after an injury that should have just given you a sprain or a bruise.

10. Mouth Sores

If you start developing canker sores inside your mouth, it might be connected to celiac disease. According to a 2009 study, people with recurring canker sores on the insides of their mouths, including the lips, cheeks, and even tongue, are three times more likely to have celiac disease than the general population.

You may also notice some problems with your teeth, such as grooves in the enamel or teeth that are smaller than usual, particularly if you’ve suffered from celiac symptoms since childhood.

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