Gluten intolerance is a common food sensitivity that affects millions of people. Unlike food allergies, which are triggered by the immune system, a food intolerance usually stems from an inability to digest certain foods. A complete inability to process gluten is celiac disease, a severe autoimmune disorder that can be life-threatening if not properly diagnosed. For most people, however, gluten intolerance manifests with mild to moderate symptoms that impact the digestive system and energy levels.


Bloating is one of the most common signs of gluten intolerance; it occurs when the body struggles to break down and process gluten in the food we eat. This can result in gas that causes the abdomen to swell. Bloating is often accompanied by flatulence and physical discomfort. This symptom will likely manifest to some degree every time an affected person eats food that contains gluten. That includes anything made with wheat, rye, or barley, and processed and packaged foods that contain these grains. To prevent bloating, most affected people need to eliminate these foods from their diet.



Researchers don't understand the link between headaches and gluten intolerance very well. They do know, however, the people with gluten intolerance may experience recurring severe headaches or migraines. Often, people who get migraines do not recognize this as a result of eating gluten. Trying a gluten-free diet could help reduce the number, duration, and intensity of headaches and migraines if gluten intolerance is the problem.


Abdominal Cramps

Because those with gluten intolerance are unable to digest gluten properly, it may cause a wide array of digestive symptoms, including abdominal cramping. This pain occurs when muscles in the digestive tract spasm. Depending on the severity of the intolerance, this pain ranges from mild to very intense. A doctor can prescribe medicine that will alleviate this symptom. However, when gluten is the cause, the best remedy is to cut foods that contain gluten from one's diet.



In severe cases of gluten intolerance, including celiac disease, people may experience a rash known as dermatitis herpetiformis. The itchy skin condition can develop all over the body, most commonly on the knees, elbows, buttocks, and scalp. Many describe it as blisters or bumps that burn. As with many symptoms, individuals may not initially realize the cause.



About a quarter of people with gluten intolerance have recurring constipation. Bowel movement frequency declines, which may result in cramping and abdominal pain. Typically, constipation makes a person strain during bowel movements, which can cause other problems. Taking laxatives and other medication meant to induce bowel movements too often can also cause damage over time.



Diarrhea is an unpleasant symptom of gluten intolerance, in which bowel movements are loose, watery, and may smell foul. About half of people with gluten intolerance experience this symptom instead of constipation. This digestion complication occurs when damage to the intestines makes it difficult for the body to absorb nutrients. Consuming gluten can trigger cramping and spasms in the digestive tract that force food to move too quickly through the body. As a result, the food is forced out before it can be properly digested. This can result in secondary symptoms such as dehydration and exhaustion because the process expels useful nutrients and electrolytes before they can be absorbed.



People with gluten intolerance often have difficulty absorbing nutrients, which leads to deficiencies. Iron-deficiency anemia can cause fatigue. Others lose electrolytes through digestive issues such as diarrhea, which also reduces energy. Fatigue is often worst directly after a gluten-sensitive person eats a problematic food because the body has to work so hard to try to digest the gluten. Many people with gluten intolerance who switch to a gluten-free diet report quickly feeling more energetic and less fatigued within days of making the change.


Depression and Anxiety

Researchers have found that gluten intolerance often correlates with depression and anxiety. One common theory is that experiencing chronic discomfort and pain, along with fatigue, can lead to stress and feelings of hopelessness. Other research suggests leaky gut syndrome, a non-medical term for changes that occur to the thin lining of the intestinal tract. The lining develops small gaps that allow bacteria and other proteins to leak out of the intestines and into the bloodstream. Inflammation, medications, stress, poor gut health, and autoimmune diseases are possible triggers for this poorly understood condition.


Unexplained Aches and Pains

Some people with gluten intolerance experience joint and muscle pain, numbness in the arms and legs, and body aches. Gluten can cause inflammation, the most likely cause of this discomfort [, although inflammation is most apparent in people with Celiac disease. The exact cause of non-celiac gluten intolerance and the aches and pains that go along with it isn't clear. Also, nutrient deficiencies from a lack of proper absorption can contribute to these issues. In most cases, people who cut gluten out of their diets report feeling healthier, with fewer aches and pains. Celiac disease is also more common in people with autoimmune issues. It is important to talk to a physician to make sure the pain is not a symptom of another condition.


Weight Loss

For those with a severe gluten intolerance such as celiac disease, continuing to consume gluten can be a dangerous choice. The body's inability to digest gluten can lead to inflammation and damage to the intestines. This makes it difficult to absorb other nutrients, as well. Initially, this may present as weight loss, but if gluten intolerance is not properly diagnosed or an individual does not make diet adjustments, this can eventually lead to malnutrition.


Dental Issues

Dental problems can be an unexpected consequence of gluten intolerance, technically known as Celiac Disease. Some individuals may develop recurrent canker sores inside their mouth, making eating and speaking uncomfortable. Additionally, gluten intolerance can lead to tooth enamel erosion, discoloration, and an increased risk of tooth decay. This is because the body's difficulty in absorbing essential nutrients can impact oral health. The enamel, which protects teeth from decay, may weaken, making teeth more susceptible to damage. Proper dental care and regular check-ups are essential for individuals with gluten intolerance to mitigate these issues.

Toothache. Girl suffering from tooth pain and touching cheek while sitting on couch at home. Dental problem concept. Stock photo


Neurological Symptoms

Neurological symptoms associated with gluten intolerance can vary but often include sensations such as tingling or numbness in the extremities. These sensations can be concerning and affect one's daily life. Some individuals may also experience difficulty with coordination, leading to balance issues. Episodes of dizziness, and lightheadedness may occur, causing discomfort and impairing mobility. When these neurological symptoms are present, it's vital to consult a neurologist or healthcare professional for a proper evaluation. Identifying and addressing the root cause, such as gluten intolerance, can lead to symptom relief and an improved quality of life.

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Hormonal Imbalance

Hormonal imbalances can be an unexpected consequence of gluten intolerance. In women, it might lead to irregular menstrual cycles, fertility issues, weight gain, PMS, or hormone-related mood swings. These imbalances can be disruptive and distressing, affecting both physical and emotional well-being. Hormonal changes in men can also occur, though they are less well-documented. The most common issue with men is reduced testosterone levels leading to a loss of libido. Addressing gluten intolerance through dietary changes may help restore hormonal balance for some individuals.

Handwritten Hormonal imbalance sign on the blackboard.


Respiratory Problems

While less common, some individuals with gluten intolerance have reported respiratory problems. These can range from a persistent, dry cough that doesn't seem to be linked to any other respiratory condition to more severe breathing difficulties that resemble asthma-like symptoms. One hypothesis is that symptoms may be triggered by airborne gluten. Although these respiratory issues are not typical signs of gluten intolerance, and not very well researched, they serve as a reminder that symptoms can vary widely among people with gluten sensitivities.

Coughing young man at home


Digestive Ulcers

Some individuals with gluten intolerance may develop digestive ulcers, which are open sores that form on the lining of the stomach or small intestine. These ulcers can be painful and lead to a range of symptoms, including burning stomach pain, indigestion, and bloating. They may also cause gastrointestinal bleeding, which can result in dark or tarry stools and, in severe cases, lead to anemia due to blood loss. Digestive ulcers can significantly impact a person's overall health and quality of life.

Acid reflux or Heartburn, The photo of stomach and internal organs is on the men's body against gray background, Stomach ache, Bad health, Male anatomy concept.


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