Updated: Mar 5, 2019
12 Unexpected Signs You May Have Issues with Gluten.
It’s a common misconception that celiac disease and gluten sensitivity always cause gut symptoms. Because of this, countless people live with illnesses that could potentially be reversed, or at least helped, simply because they’ve never gotten a proper diagnosis. (Those who are lucky enough to get a diagnosis typically only do so after dealing with symptoms for 8-11 years and seeing 5 different doctors!)
Not everyone who is sensitive to wheat has stomach issues. In fact, 50% of people with celiac disease report having no gastrointestinal problems at all.
Here are 12 non-gut-related health issues that might flag issues with gluten:
When you have celiac disease, the towel-like lining of your gut gets worn down. Those little towel-like fibers are there to help you absorb nutrients from your food. If they get worn down too much, your body may not be able to absorb enough iron. Any time unexplained iron-deficiency anemia is present, it's worth exploring the possibility of celiac disease, even without the presence of gut symptoms.
2. Chronic Vitamin B12 and folate deficiencies
While a lot of attention on these deficiencies is on MTHFR gene mutations these days, celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) can also cause problems with absorbing these vitamins, much like it does with iron.
Up to 70% of people with untreated celiac have been shown to have osteopenia or osteoporosis, which increases fracture risk. They just aren't able to get enough calcium out of food sources into their bones. The Annals of Internal Medicine has recommended that all individuals with osteoporosis should undergo screening for celiac disease.
So many of our feel-good and calming neurotransmitters (like serotonin, dopamine, and GABA), are created in the gut with the help of friendly gut microbes. When there is a fire in the gut due to a gluten issue, this balance gets thrown off, and our neurotransmitter levels can suffer. Healing the gut can make a big difference in helping these disorders.
5. Autoimmune Disorders
Food sensitivities typically cause inflammation and damage to the gut lining. When large gluten molecules get through a compromised gut barrier, the body thinks they are invaders and sends antibodies after them. Because gluten proteins look very similar to proteins to our body, e.g., joints, bone, thyroid, brain, sometimes the immune system mistakenly attacks them instead. This is called molecular mimicry, and it is one of the big reasons gluten can be so problematic. While some autoimmune disorders like Hashimotos and Rheumatoid Arthritis are more commonly linked to gluten, any autoimmune process suggests there is a gut barrier breach, and that it may be worth looking at food sensitivities. Gut pathogens are another potential trigger.
6. Cognitive Decline/Alzheimers/Dementia
While there are many potential underlying causes of cognitive issues, gluten sensitivity is worth exploring because it causes inflammation which can decrease blood flow to the brain. A second issue is that due to molecular mimicry, as discussed above, antibodies to gluten can mistakenly attack tissues in the brain (this is called Gluten Ataxia). A Mayo Clinic study demonstrated that cognitive decline could be reversed or stabilized when gluten was removed from the diet, likely due to reduced inflammation and increase blood flow to the brain.
Yes, schizophrenia can absolutely be a triggered by celiac disease for similar reasons as alzheimers/dementia. A person with schizophrenia has 50 – 100x the likelihood of having celiac disease as the average person. There have been cases where people have fully reversed this disease by removing gluten. If you or someone you love has schizophrenia, you would have nothing to lose by testing for celiac.
8. Chronic Headaches/Migraines
Once again we see the brain affected by gluten. People with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity have significantly higher rates of headaches and migraines than the general population. One study at the Columbia Medical Center in New York found that those with celiac had over 3X more migraines than the control group. There are certainly other root causes for migraines to explore, but sensitivities to things like gluten (also look at dairy, eggs, corn, and soy) are one area to check. I recently had a client end 25 years of migraines by removing gluten and dairy and repairing her gut.
9. Joint Pain/Arthritis
Whether you have full-blown Rheumatoid Arthritis, or just chronic joint pain that you’ve been told may just be a sign of getting older, I would always consider exploring the possibility that gluten could be an issue for you because it can trigger an autoimmune attack on the joints. This blog post explores five other potential root causes of joint pain.
Molecular mimicry can also cause the gluten antibodies to cause nerve damage, which causes pain and tingling/numbness in the hands and feet. Studies show that when those with neuropathies and gluten antibodies followed a strict gluten-free diet, their risk of neuropathic pan was reduced by 88.7%.
11. Skin Rashes
So often, issues in the gut manifest as issues in the skin. Whether it’s chronic acne, eczema, psoriasis, or dermatitis herpetiformis, exploring gluten and dairy sensitivities as well as other potential issues in the gut is a great place to start.
12. Learning Disabilities
People with celiac have been shown to be 73% more likely to have hypoperfusion, which is decreased blood flow to the brain. This can manifest with ADHD and other learning disabilities. With kids, this may be the only sign of the issue (and the reason it often gets missed) because it typically takes years for the disease to advance to the point where gut symptoms manifest.
So how do you find out if you are celiac or non-celiac gluten sensitive? There are a few options.
The simplest, most effective test is an elimination diet.
You remove gluten for 30 days and then reintroduce it to see if there are symptoms. Removal must be 100%, because even a few crumbs is enough to set off an autoimmune reaction that can last for months. Look to replace gluten not with gluten-free boxed foods, but with vegetables and fruits so that you continue to get fiber. Always check with your doctor before making dietary changes.
Get tested by your doctor.
This will usually include a blood test and an endoscopy, the latter is what you need for an official diagnosis of celiac. This is very effective if you have full-blown celiac. Though the endoscopy can miss the celiac if you are in early stages where there isn’t enough damage yet for that official diagnosis.
This newer test gives an incredibly detailed look the body’s reaction to gluten (even if you're currently gluten free). It has both a sensitivity and specificity of 99% (meaning only a 1% chance of a false negative or positive), which is more accurate than your typical IgG/IgA blood test. It also has markers for gut permeability (also known as leaky gut) and immune system function. This lab also carries Zoomers for eggs, dairy, soy, corn, nuts, and seafood that can be bundled.
95% of people with celiac carry one of two genes, DQ8 or DQ2. A test for this can be added onto a Zoomer test or done on its own. This test is a good option for those on immunosuppressants for an autoimmune disorder, as blood tests that look for antibodies will not be effective in this scenario.
GETTING ADDITIONAL SUPPORT
As a functional health coach and certified gluten practitioner, my work centers around looking beyond your symptoms to try to discover the root cause, or causes, as the case may be. The gut almost always plays a role, even when symptoms seem unrelated. And I promise you, issues with gluten are far more common than you might think.
Once a sensitivity is discovered, removal plus a targeted support to help repair the gut can be immensely helpful. I have been down this road, and I count this is an important step to reclaiming my health.
If you’re interested in testing for celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, you can order a Wheat Zoomer test or bundle here. It comes with results consultation by phone..
If you are interested in a deeper dive into your health and root causes, and would like to discuss a customized testing plan and/or coaching packages with me, you can sign up for a free discovery call here.