What Is Gluten Intolerance?

What Is Gluten Intolerance?

Knowing how to recognise gluten intolerance can make a huge difference in your lifestyle. If you can confirm your suspicions, then these gluten illness symptoms will clear up in no time. You’ll notice your skin clear up, you’ll likely lose weight and you’ll feel better in yourself, mentally and physically. However, knowing if you don’t have gluten intolerance will also allow you to feel confident in asking for further advice and testing from your doctor. Especially if you’ve been ill for a long time.

What does it mean if you are gluten intolerant?

Gluten intolerance is also referred to as non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. Being gluten intolerant means that your stomach struggles to digest the protein of gluten. Gluten is most commonly found in grains, such as wheat, rye and barley. It acts as a glue, holding together the shape of the grains. However, what is commonly considered gluten intolerance can actually sometimes be another illness. Such as wheat allergies, or even coeliac disease.

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Generally, when you’re feeling unwell, your doctor will book a blood test for you if they suspect coeliac disease. This is because there is a wide range of illnesses that share many gluten illness symptoms, such as bloating, diarrhoea and tiredness. Gluten intolerance in particular- or gluten sensitivity, as is the more accurate term – has many of the same symptoms.

However, there are some key differences between these illnesses. We’ll discuss the differences in more detail, below. But, the key thing to understand, is that if someone says you’re gluten intolerant or gluten sensitive, there are small, easy changes you can make, which help relieve symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance

Many of the signs and symptoms of gluten intolerance hold the same characteristics as those with wheat allergies or coeliac disease. As such, we’ve highlighted the symptoms of gluten sensitivity that also fall in line with these other illnesses.

SymptomsGluten SensitivityWheat AllergiesCoeliac Disease
Irritation around the mouth and throatx
Eye irritationx
Bloating and gasxx
Menstrual symptoms and infertilityx
Hives and rashx

As you can see, there are considerable cross-overs. However, untreated symptoms will worsen over time. This is why it’s important to head to your doctor first and request a blood test, before cutting out foods or changing your diet.

Are You Born With Gluten Intolerance?

Yes and no. There is some evidence to suggest that most people with coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity have a genetic predisposition to these illnesses. However, gluten sensitivity can build up over time, especially if you eat foods high in gluten. Whereas coeliac disease will become more obvious, earlier in life. We discuss these difference in more detail, below.

What Triggers Gluten Intolerance?

This is an excellent question, which is still being debated today. Some in the medical community argue that those who self-diagnose gluten intolerance are actually suffering from poorly absorbed carbs. Those carbohydrates – called FODMAPs, for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. (Try saying that with a mouthful of mushy peas.) – can cause bloating when they ferment in the gut.

Indeed, one study looked at 393 people with self-diagnosed gluten intolerance. In this, they began an investigation into whether there were any improvements to their health and wellbeing after eating a gluten-free diet. However, the results showed that only 26 people had celiac disease, while 2 had a wheat allergy.

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Of the 364 final participants, only 27 people received a diagnosis of gluten sensitivity. This means that only 14.5% of the participants actually had any problem with gluten sensitivity or illnesses. As such, it can be argued that the symptoms of gluten intolerance are actually symptoms of another illness, such as wheat allergies or coeliac.

Gluten Sensitivity vs Coeliac Disease

Gluten sensitivity is characterised by a suspected inflammation of the digestive system. This inflammation occurs when an individual eats food with gluten. One report into the symptoms of people with suspected gluten sensitivities suggests that “individuals with non-celiac gluten sensitivity have a prevalence of extraintestinal or non-GI symptoms. Such as headache, “foggy mind,” joint pain, and numbness in the legs, arms or fingers.”

However, the length and severity of symptoms caused by gluten insensitivity suggest that these are not as severe as those who have coeliac disease. These symptoms are also not indicative of damage to the body, as can be seen in those with coeliac disease. In other words, the signs and symptoms will ease as the individual eats food without gluten.

Coeliac disease, however, can have a major impact on the individual. Particularly if that person hasn’t been diagnosed at a young age. As well as suffering from fatigue, anaemia and depression, those with coeliac disease will have long-term pain.

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This can often be caused by the increase in permeability along the intestines. It is this increase that allows bacteria, toxins and some proteins to seep into the bloodstream. Thus, the individual creates antibodies, in order to fight off potential infections. It’s these antibodies which can be seen through blood testing – which gives patients their verdict on whether the individual has coeliac disease or not.

Naturally, in GI, these antibodies are not present, as there is no increase in permeability. As such, the blood test can be pretty definitive in its answer. Of course, if you are still suffering with these symptoms, do ask for further testing and investigation, as there may be something else at play.

Can Gluten Intolerance Become Celiac Disease

No. The good news, for anyone who believes they are sensitive to gluten, is that the sensitivities cannot become coeliac disease. This is because coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition that slowly becomes worse over time, and not eating gluten is the only way to stop this damage getting worse. Gluten intolerance, however, will have the same range of symptoms even if you decide to continue eating gluten, without causing lasting damage to your body.

Gluten Intolerance Treatment

The treatment for suspected gluten intolerance is simple. All individuals need to do, to stop the symptoms, is avoid foods with high levels of gluten. The most common foods with higher levels of gluten include:

  1. Bread and Baked Goods
  2. Pasta
  3. Cereal
  4. Crackers
  5. Beer
  6. Gravy
  7. Soup

Bear in mind that these can also come with gluten-free varieties. So, do check the labels for “gluten-free” options, if you still want to enjoy these food types. And don’t forget to always speak to your doctor is you have any concerns about your health and wellbeing.



Editor-in-chief, lover of UX/UI and copywriter by trade. Wendy can usually be found ranting to herself over on Twitter, educating herself about health and wellness, parenting or gaming. Luckily, she doesn't do all of these things at the same time - though you'd be surprised how often they cross over.

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