Did that slice of pizza last night tear up your stomach? Are you often bloated and gassy after eating bread? Maybe you’re thinking about going gluten-free, but you’re not sure.
As a specialist in food sensitivities, I get a lot of questions about gluten sensitivity and wheat allergy. To help you sort through the confusion, I’ll go through some of the common gluten sensitivity symptoms and wheat allergy symptoms so you can decide what to do about it.
First off, gluten sensitivity and wheat allergy are related, but distinctly different.
Gluten Sensitivity and Celiac Disease
Gluten sensitivity is a broad term that includes a variety of diagnoses. Simply put, gluten sensitivity means that eating gluten, a protein found in wheat and certain other grains (rye, barley, and all varieties of wheat), has a negative effect on the body.
In its most serious form, celiac disease, eating gluten causes a damaging autoimmune response in the body and must be completely excluded from the diet. Symptoms can include bloating, gas, diarrhea, joint pain, skin rashes (similar to eczema), foggy thinking, headaches and long-term nutrient deficiencies (like iron, vitamin D, calcium, and others).
Getting tested for celiac disease is a good idea if you suffer from any of the above, though at least 50% with the disease don’t have symptoms. Scary, I know. Plus, it takes an average of 11 years for those with celiac disease to get diagnosed properly, since the symptoms are shared with a number of other conditions.
If the celiac testing comes back negative and you’re still having symptoms, it could be non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), now becoming a more widely recognized problem worldwide. People with NCGS don’t have the classic autoimmune intestinal damage seen in celiac disease, but they suffer other inflammatory damage from gluten. A study from the Maryland University showed 28-30% of people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) had non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
There are controversies on the best testing for gluten sensitivity and no blood test is perfect. However, once you’ve ruled out celiac disease, it’s fair game to trial a gluten-free diet for a few weeks (some docs suggest a minimum of 3 months) and monitor your symptoms. If you feel much better eating gluten-free, you might have gluten sensitivity and it’s worth it to avoid gluten-containing foods.
One extra note on symptoms – If you’re experiencing brain fog after eating wheat or gluten-containing products, it’s more likely that you have non-celiac gluten sensitivity than celiac disease. Studies show 35% of people with NCGS have brain fog, while only 5-10% of those with celiac disease report this symptom.
Keep in mind that symptoms of food sensitivities can be delayed, meaning than unlike an allergy, you might not feel sick immediately after eating. In some people, symptoms are delayed up to 4 days after ingestion. For others, delayed food sensitivities can provoke symptoms for 2 weeks after eating. That also means, if you go on an elimination diet, you need at least 2 weeks to be sure the food is completely out of your system.
That makes it very tricky to keep track of what’s behind your symptoms without some lab testing to confirm. In other words, “test, don’t guess”. Maybe you’ve cut out gluten, but you’re eating other reactive foods. In that case, you could remain on a limited diet for a long time and not get any better while also risking nutrient deficiencies.
If you’re interested in getting tested for food sensitivities, head over here to learn more about it. I’ve had clients who heal from their symptoms in as little as 3 days on their customized elimination diet, based on the results of MRT food sensitivity testing with most clients experiencing a 60-70% drop in symptoms in the first month.
Food can be medicine or poison and what works for one person doesn’t work for another. The only way to know for sure is to test.
If you have wheat allergy (as opposed to a gluten sensitivity), you will likely experience symptoms sooner, usually within a few hours after eating wheat. Wheat allergy symptoms include swelling/irritation of the mouth or throat, hives, itchy rashes, sinus congestion, watery eyes, nausea, and diarrhea. In severe cases, wheat allergy symptoms can lead to anaphylaxis, a life threatening reaction that requires immediate medical attention.
A true wheat allergy is more akin to the classic peanut allergy and typically diagnosed in early childhood. Wheat allergy isn’t common in adults. Even traces of wheat from cross-contamination, such as bread crumbs left on a knife, can provoke an allergic reaction.
Wheat allergy is classified differently from gluten sensitivity due to the immune cells and antibodies that are involved. Essentially it’s a different problem with the same culprit. People with wheat allergy need to avoid wheat entirely, but unlike celiac disease, some may be able to eat other gluten-containing grains, like rye and barley. I suggest seeking an experienced allergist to test for wheat allergy.
Now, I’d like to hear from you. Do you get symptoms from eating wheat or gluten? What are your symptoms? Have you been tested for celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or wheat allergy? Tell me about it in the comments below.
Remember, if you’re struggling with any of the symptoms discussed in this article, your doctor should rule out celiac disease and wheat allergy before you go gluten-free. If those two conditions have been ruled out, but you’re still experiencing digestive troubles and suspect food is a culprit, you might consider getting tested for food sensitivities to uncover the hidden cause of your symptoms.
Until next week,