Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity Symptoms

gluten sensitivity symptoms

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein present in wheat, rye, and barley. It’s what gives bread dough its elasticity and chewiness. Gluten-free flours include rice flour, soy flour, tapioca flour (also called cassava flour), and potato starch flour.

How does gluten affect your body?


For those who have celiac disease, gluten damages the small intestine and makes it harder to absorb vitamins and minerals from food. This can lead to osteoporosis, anemia, and other health problems. For those without gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, gluten is not a concern.

What gluten-related health issues are there?


In the U.S., gluten sensitivity is one of the top five diagnoses for people who see a digestive disease specialist. Gluten sensitivity doesn’t cause damage to the small intestine, but it does affect how your intestines absorb nutrients from food. In gluten sensitivity, gluten triggers an immune response in the gluten-sensitive person. The immune system responds by causing inflammation in the gluten-sensitive person’s gut and other areas, such as the joints.

Gluten sensitivity symptoms include:

  • abdominal bloating and cramps
  • diarrhea
  • fatigue
  • brain fog
  • headaches
  • joint pain
  • itchiness
  • acid reflux
  • skin rash
  • depression

The gluten-sensitive person’s gluten intake doesn’t have to be high in gluten for gluten sensitivity symptoms to develop. A gluten-free diet helps those sensitive to gluten, but some don’t need a 100% gluten-free diet. They may only need a gluten reduction diet.

Is gluten sensitivity real? How common is gluten sensitivity?

Doctors used to think gluten only made the celiac disease worse, but in the 1990s they discovered gluten could trigger symptoms in people who don’t have celiac disease or wheat allergy. It was estimated 3 million Americans were gluten sensitive in 2014. However, many experts believe that gluten sensitivity is underdiagnosed.

How gluten intolerance is diagnosed

There’s no test to diagnose gluten sensitivity, it’s a clinical diagnosis. The gluten-sensitive person will have symptoms similar to those of celiac disease, but the gluten-sensitive person won’t have damage to their small intestine. If you think you or your child has gluten sensitivity, talk to your doctor about getting tested for coeliac disease too.

Gluten sensitivity can be hard to diagnose because gluten can hide in places you wouldn’t expect, such as medications and lipstick. Always read food labels before eating a product that claims gluten-free on its packaging. Unfortunately, gluten can also contaminate food labeled “gluten-free.” This happens when gluten cross contaminates the gluten-free food during production, storage, or packaging.

Gluten-reducing diets are gluten-free diets that don’t eliminate gluten. Gluten reducing diet can help gluten-sensitive people manage their symptoms without the expense of having to buy gluten-free products all the time. Gluten-reducing diets include gluten in small amounts, such as one piece of bread every other day instead of one slice of bread each day. About 2%-3% of Americans have Celiac disease and 23% avoid gluten for various reasons (some gluten sensitivities may be outgrowths on this.) The prevalence of celiac disease is similar around the world; 1 in 100 people will develop the celiac disease in their lifetime. Approximate rates in North America range from 1 in 133 (1.5%) to 1 in 266 (0.4%).

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