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