One of the many misconceptions about non-celiac gluten sensitivity is that it only manifests in gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating and diarrhea. However, new research shows that individuals with a sensitivity to gluten often experience a wide range of symptoms affecting many body systems. Because non-celiac gluten sensitivity has not been recognized by the medical community until very recently, health care professionals often do not suspect gluten as a source of certain health problems.
Here are 5 unexpected symptoms of non-celiac gluten sensitivity:
1. Mental Health Problems
Mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, and difficulty focusing, can indicate underlying physical health problems. While the exact cause is unknown, multiple studies suggests that a sensitivity to gluten can cause malabsorption of vital nutrients, particularly vitamins B and D, thus negatively impacting brain health. A team of doctors in Maryland found that gluten can cause direct harm the central nervous systems of those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity, triggering neurological dysfunction and exacerbating mental symptoms.
Fortunately, a gluten-free diet can help or even resolve these mental affects alongside therapy and medications.
2. Chronic Fatigue
While inflammation is typically associated with pain, it can also cause fatigue which can be just as debilitating. A recent study from Columbia University Medical Center shows individuals with non-celiac gluten sensitivity have both intestinal cell damage and systemic immune responses to wheat and gluten, leading to malabsorption issues and symptoms like anemia and weight loss. When the body lacks vital nutrients, the immune system works harder, triggering the experience of overall exhaustion.
After gluten is removed from the diet, energy levels will improve within a few weeks. Supplementing with vitamin B and D, which are often depleted in those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity, can also help fatigue.
3. Skin Rashes
Inflammation from gluten sensitivity can also manifest in skin reactions such as redness, itching, blistering, and burning. In 2015, Italian researchers found many patients with non-celiac gluten sensitivity presented with eczema, psoriasis, and dermatitis herpetiformis, and their symptoms improved when they switched to a gluten-free diet. Because dermatological symptoms can occur from both ingesting and skin-to-skin contact with gluten, conventional beauty and skin care products should be avoided as they are often made with gluten or created using equipment that also processes products with gluten.
Individuals with non-celiac gluten sensitivity should avoid handling gluten whenever possible and read the ingredients for both food and personal items. Certified gluten-free beauty and skin care products can be found in health food stores and certain pharmacies.
4. Mouth Ulcers
While mouth ulcers (also known as canker sores) may seem trivial, they are a common symptom of a negative reaction to gluten exposure. In a recent study by Italian researchers, subjects with suspected non-celiac gluten sensitivity were exposed to small amounts of gluten for a week and reported an increase of mouth ulcers. Because conventional oral care products can be made with or processed using equipment exposed to gluten, it is important that those with gluten sensitivity use certified gluten-free toothpastes and other products for oral health.
Similarly to preventing dermatological reactions, avoiding any contact with gluten will resolve mouth ulcers.
5. Migraine Headaches
Known for their excruciating and debilitating nature, migraine headaches can be caused by an underlying sensitivity to gluten. New neurological studies demonstrate a connection between digestive disorders and migraine headaches due to an alteration of gut microbia composition. Gluten disrupts and harms the “good bacteria” in the gut and because neurological, endocrine, and immune systems connect the brain and the GI tract, this is how inflammation from gluten sensitivity can cause such a wide range of symptoms like migraine headaches.
Removing gluten from the diet may reduce the frequency and duration of migraine attacks and potentially eliminate them altogether. Research from New Zealand suggests probiotics may help migraines by healing the composition of the gut’s “good bacteria.”
In conclusion, much research supports that a gluten-free diet can help and even resolve many different symptoms for individuals with non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Always consult with a doctor before making lifestyle changes. A dietician can help with planning balanced and nutritious gluten-free meals.
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