12 Shocking Symptoms of Gluten Sensitivity

12 Shocking Symptoms of Gluten Sensitivity

It’s WAY More Than Tummy Troubles!

Here’s the thing. I’ve heard from countless Hypothyroid Mom readers who have no idea gluten sensitivity could be a factor in their hypothyroidism. What is particularly interesting about this list of gluten sensitivity symptoms is that each and every one of them is also a potential symptom of hypothyroidism. Hmmm…

I wonder just how many hypothyroid people have gluten sensitivity. I suspect there are many more than we even imagine.

Written by Jennifer Fugo, MS, CHC

Have you ever felt like doctors don’t take you seriously? You know that something is wrong with your health, but your practitioner is too quick to dismiss the concerns you experience. Through your own research you stumble upon this concept called gluten intolerance and realize that all of the signs of gluten sensitivity listed are identical to what you’re experiencing.

When I was in college, I too chased after elusive answers regarding my health while every doctor I saw felt my case wasn’t worth the time. A total of seven different doctors over the course of two years attributed my undiagnosed gluten intolerance (at the time) to other seemingly unrelated individual symptoms that got me nowhere.

All of my severe symptoms that were actually related to gluten were boiled down to “being a typical female college student” (what does that even mean?!), chronic fatigue, depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), chronic migraines, and one doctor even said I was just being paranoid.

Their solution was to throw medication at the various problems which included sleeping pills, separate anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications, and muscle relaxants. Despite my persistent prodding for real answers and diagnostic testing, these common “fixes” were equivalent to placing the tiniest band-aid over a gaping wound—I was not being helped, healed, or listened to.

Can you relate to my experience? Sadly, I’ve found this rings true for many people out there who remained undiagnosed with gluten sensitivity for years and were given false answers that led nowhere. If you still don’t have all of your answers, know that you may exhibit one or several nagging and debilitating symptoms that many medical practitioners don’t attribute to a very possible root cause of gluten intolerance or sensitivity. What’s worse, you’re more likely to be left in the dark without answers if you aren’t experiencing gastrointestinal related symptoms like diarrhea.

12 Shocking Symptoms of Gluten Sensitivity

Gluten sensitivity and intolerance can manifest as much more than just IBS-like symptoms and stomach problems. That’s why doctors are more likely to dismiss the idea that you even have this because if they don’t hear about digestive problems as your chief complaint, then it must be something else.

It can be an exclusively neurological disease for many. In 2013, an in-depth study by a team of researchers including renowned Dr. Alessio Fasano stated that, “Both Celiac Disease and gluten sensitivity may present with a variety of neurologic and psychiatric co-morbidities, however, extraintestinal symptoms (outside of the digestive system) may be the prime presentation in those with gluten sensitivity. However, gluten sensitivity remains under-treated and under-recognized as a contributing factor to psychiatric and neurologic manifestations.” (source)

It’s very important to note that not all cases of neurological symptoms are caused by gluten. However, issues like depression and anxiety which are not typically linked directly to gluten consumption CAN be signs of gluten sensitivity for some. Too often, pain killers and prescriptions are thrown at patients when no clear diagnosis is made, missing the real cause behind the symptoms bubbling up on the surface.

The bottom line is that gluten sensitivity can affect processes in the body beyond the digestive tract, wreaking havoc on your skin (our largest organ!), joints, bones, mouth, endocrine system and more. Your myriad of symptoms that don’t make sense to the doctor may mean that they’ve no clue that you’re reporting back to them the signs of gluten sensitivity. The current model of medicine treats symptoms rather than looking for the underlying cause which further explains why doctors are quick to prescribe medication that might ease only your momentary suffering. But it certainly doesn’t excuse the lack of education and openmindedness that would serve patients better if they knew more about the interaction between food and the body.

If you don’t feel listened to, then it may be time to find a new doctor. Jennifer eventually found a doctor who listened and told her she needed to stop eating gluten—for good. In a mere two weeks off gluten, all her plaguing symptoms began to cease and things she didn’t realize were actual problems with her body started to clear up, including achy joints (at age 21 no less!), muscle spasms, strange tingling sensations, and random dizziness.

And for all the doubters out there, gluten sensitivity is oh so very real.

Here’s a checklist of some of the surprising symptoms and signs that have been linked to gluten sensitivity and make sure to work with a qualified health professional to get tested.

1. Depression and Anxiety

Depression is a serious health concern for many people. Symptoms of depression can include feelings of hopelessness, lack of interest, low energy, appetite changes, sleep changes, anger, and more. Some patients do require medication to correct persistent imbalances with depression. However, often underlying causes of depression are not investigated. Research now confirms that Celiac disease and gluten intolerance are linked to depression, anxiety and mood disorders. Once gluten is removed from the diet in the gluten sensitive, depression and anxiety can actually be resolved.

Symptoms of anxiety often go hand in hand with depression which makes it very hard to relax and think clearly. Some may experience sensations of panic, loss of control, heart racing, chest pains, trouble breathing or feelings of passing out. Anxiety attacks can even mimic heart attacks so it’s important to be aware of the distinction.

2. ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder affects children and adults alike, but many don’t make the connection of their symptoms to diet. Dr. Ron Hoggan, Ed.D, co-author of the best selling book, “Cereal Killers,” wrote an article on Celiac.com citing several studies linking ADHD and gluten together. He states, “The concept of drugging a child to facilitate learning is upsetting to me, especially when there is cause to suspect that, on the gluten free diet, she may improve without intervention.” (source)

And by intervention, Dr. Hoggan is referring to medicinal intervention. Alternative approaches address food sensitivities and intolerance as a root cause of behavioral disorders. This follows the line of research and treatment that Dr. Charles Parker uses to treat patients in his psychiatric practice. He first looks at the gut because neurotransmitters are produced directly by what’s broken down in the digestive system. Leaky gut can facilitate a number of mental health issues because gluten and other food proteins are essentially sneaking into the body where they don’t belong.

3. Brain Fog

Being unable to think clearly is just as stifling as it sounds. When you feel disconnected or just plain “out of it”, it might not be all in your head.

Gluten can have the affect known as “foggy brain” in sensitive individuals. While it can be difficult to quantify gluten induced “brain fog”, researchers in a 2002 study in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry found that there may be significant cross reactivity of IgG antibodies to gluten and other different antibodies that could result in mental fogginess. These antibodies can also cause inflammation which can further exacerbate the condition.

4. Autoimmune Diseases

Gluten consumption has been linked to numerous autoimmune diseases. Sarah Ballantyne PhD, author of The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body, says, “Every single autoimmune disease in which gluten as a contributor has been investigated has shown that gluten sensitivity is a contributor to that disease.” Scary right? But luckily, making the connection is the first step towards better health.

It’s even possible to know if autoimmune issues are brewing years before they bubble up to the surface and you end up with a diagnosis. This gives you time to make nutritional and lifestyle adjustments that can impact whether you eventually develop a full-blown autoimmune disorder.

Just to be clear… here’s a list of some autoimmune diseases known to be related to gluten sensitivity — Celiac Disease, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Graves’ Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Vitiligo, Sjogren’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis, Dermatitis Herpetiformis, and Type 1 Diabetes.

5. Low Immunity

If you’re prone to frequently getting sick, you should consider gluten to potentially be an issue.

The first sign of my gluten intolerance was an extremely depressed IgA result in testing I completed in early 2008 before I had any idea of what was wrong.

To break this down into simpler terms, IgA is a class of antibodies in your body that exist primarily in saliva, tears and in the gastrointestinal tract (though some do exist in the blood). Think of them as your first line of defense when a cold comes knocking at your door. When you’re sensitive to gluten or have celiac disease, one sign is a depressed level of IgA antibodies meaning that you don’t have the proper defenses in place to keep you well.

Believe it or not, IgA deficiency is “the most common immunodeficiency in Caucasians” occurring at a rate of 1 in 600. It is seen in many autoimmune diseases including the thyroid condition known as Graves’ disease, Lupus, Type 1 diabetes, Celiac disease and rheumatoid arthritis. (source)

6. Dental Issues

Cavities, canker sores (mouth ulcers) broken teeth, and tooth decay can plague those with undiagnosed gluten sensitivity as well as Celiac disease. A 2009 study published in the journal BMC Gastroenterology (source) found a positive link between gluten sensitivity and recurrent mouth ulcers, of which I personally experienced growing up (Recurrent aphthous stomatitis, or RAS).

Calcium levels of gluten sensitive individuals can be staggeringly low due to malabsorption, which can lead to weak bones and teeth. Dr. Kim Millman MD is a big supporter of requesting a DEXA scan, which measures bone density. It’s a reliable way of determining your calcium levels and overall bone health, since Dr. Millman also states that calcium levels in blood work aren’t at all reliable.

7. Unexplained Weight Loss or Weight Gain

Can’t keep your weight in check? A sudden or even gradual change in weight while eating habits remain more or less unchanged can be an indicator of a bigger health problem.

For some with malabsorption and gut permeability due to gluten intolerance or sensitivity, unwanted weight loss despite regular calorie intake can have dangerous effects. On the other hand, gluten can trigger systemic inflammation in the body that mimics stubborn weight gain. Removing gluten for good and healing the gut with a healthy diet can restore weight to healthy normal levels.

Another point to consider is that the type of gut bacteria living in your digestive system can play a direct role in your body’s ability to stay at a healthy weight. Brenda’s Watson, CNC shares that a even just a 7-day round of antibiotics can negatively alter gut bacteria for up to two years. Keep in mind that chronic candida (yeast) infections can also play a role in weight gain and loss.

8. Migraine Headaches

According to Mark Hyman MD, a leader in functional medicine and eight-time New York Times bestselling author, over 10 million Americans suffer from migraines. Anyone who has ever experienced a migraine knows how seriously painful they can be.

While not all cases of migraines are related to gluten, it’s been linked as a significant cause for some. In a study that measured migraine headaches in gluten sensitive individuals, chronic headaches were reported in 56% percent of those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity, 30 percent of those with Celiac disease, and 23 percent of those with inflammatory bowel disease. Only 14 percent of those in a control group reported headaches. (source)

Meanwhile Dr. Alessio Fasano, medical director of the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research, states that a 100% gluten-free diet can relieve many cases of chronic migraines.

9. Skin Problems

From eczema and acne to psoriasis and dermatitis herpetiformis (DH), gluten can cause some extremely uncomfortable skin issues. Basically inflammation under the top layers of skin can occur and cause eruptions of rashes, itchiness, burning, redness, and even painful blisters.

The Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG) describes the severe rash of DH as “a chronic disease of the skin marked by groups of watery, itchy blisters that may resemble pimples or blisters. The ingestion of gluten (from wheat, rye, and barley) triggers an immune system response that deposits a substance, lgA (Immunoglobulin A), under the top layer of skin. IgA is present in affected as well as unaffected skin…” GIG goes on to state that, “If you have DH, you always have gluten intolerance.” (source)

Eczema, psoriasis, skin rashes and your thyroid, is there a connection? Your thyroid is well known for regulating your body temperature and metabolism. But there’s way more behind the scenes at play. Thyroid hormones have receptor sites in every cell in your body; meaning an underactive thyroid has the potential to disrupt cell metabolism and detox throughout your body. There are two major ways your thyroid and skin health are related.

  1. Low thyroid function affects your gut. And your gut impacts your skin.
  2. Low thyroid function reduces blood flow to your skin.

10. Hormonal Imbalance and Adrenal Fatigue

Hormone imbalance can manifest itself as irregular menstrual cycles, weight gain or loss, hot flashes, low energy levels, erratic sleep patterns and more. In discussing gluten sensitivity and female hormones, Dr. Daniel Kalish D.C states that “a strong relationship has been established in medical literature between gluten sensitivity and the hormones progesterone and estrogen. Additionally, most of my patients with gluten sensitivity have an adrenal hormone imbalance, and this becomes exacerbated for patients during menopause…” (source)

Dr. Kalish notes that he’s “…observed serious problems often begin to reveal themselves when women with gluten sensitivity reach peri-menopause. As their ovarian output of sex hormones drops, the resulting hormone imbalance is worsened by over consumption of gluten. The adrenal glands respond to the stress of unstable blood sugar and gastrointestinal tract inflammation caused by gluten by increasing cortisol. This causes increased body fat, fatigue and unstable moods.”

11. Joint and Muscle Aches

Got joint and muscle aches? Gluten’s damaging inflammation in susceptible individuals can cause flares and pain. WebMD states that, “Joint pain and inflammation are (also) common symptoms of gluten sensitivity. And research does show links between the two diseases.” The Arthritis Foundation has also published information regarding the link between gluten sensitivity, joint pain, and arthritis conditions.

12. Extreme Fatigue

Do you feel like you can never sleep enough? The reason I sought medical help initially was because I could sleep up to 11 hours and still wake up exhausted and feeling like I was drugged. Though I did have gastrointestinal issues, my extreme exhaustion seemed more pressing. Since removing gluten, I can get up daily at 5:45 am without an alarm and no need for caffeine.

So even if you’re getting an adequate amount of sleep each night, waking up feeling exhausted means that something’s up. Gluten can contribute to feelings of sluggishness and tiredness in several different ways. When your body is in a state of inflammation and spending resources dealing with gluten proteins, it’s at the expense of available energy stores and normal bodily processes.

About Jennifer Fugo, MS, CHC

Jennifer Fugo is a clinical nutritionist with a Master’s in Human Nutrition as well as a trained wellness coach and yoga instructor. Jennifer is a sought-after expert about healthy, gluten-free living as well as a speaker who has been featured on Doctor Oz, Yahoo! News, eHow, CNN, and Huffington Post. She is author of the book The Savvy Gluten-Free Shopper: How to Eat Healthy Without Breaking the Bank.

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About Dana Trentini

I founded Hypothyroid Mom October 2012 in memory of the unborn baby I lost to hypothyroidism. Hypothyroid Mom is for informational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for consulting your physician regarding medical advice pertaining to your health. Hypothyroid Mom includes affiliate links to favorite resources including the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. Connect with me on Google+

Comments

  1. To bad I can’t get the necessary help to correct my problem I have all of those symptoms what do you do if you’re homeless and at the mercy of the fast food industry

  2. Joanne Popper says:

    Great article. I went gluten/dairy free about two months ago. I am menopausal and began experiencing severe pain in my left hip, down to my knee, and low back. My left ovary has always been sensitive to cysts and pain. I was beginning to think I wasn’t going to be able to work for much longer. I could hardly walk without severe pain, and was starting to feel very depressed. I stopped eating everything, pulled out my juicer and also added a lot of fresh ginger along with vegetables and within three days my pain was greatly reduced. I’m now learning how to cook gluten and dairy free. It takes a lot of adjustment, but it’s definitely possible to go gluten free and still enjoy things like going out to dinner. The most surprising thing is that many people will think it’s all in your head, so I’m careful who I share my new lifestyle with and how much it changed my life. I stumbled across the connection between gluten and menopause after months of searching for answers. I only hope other women who are suffering from gluten sensitivity during menopause make the connection.

  3. I almost cried reading this. Ive had hashimotos for nearly 20 years and just learned about gluten, dairy, and all of these other thongs to try.. I was always called a hypochondriac and was given drugs for anxiety depression and diagnosed with IBS…and there was nothing they could do about my fatigue amd brain fog. Traditional medicine always told me all i could do was take my synthroid….I am angered by the lack of acceptance in traditional medicine of all of this information out there…. and also hopeful for relief. I have been gluten and dairy free for about a month now and have normal bowels for the first time….my thyroid level went down to .25….which makes me think my body is absorbing nutrients and synthroid better. I need a new dose now!! There is hope after all and food really can be a great medicine too…thank you for the great information!!!

    • So wonderful to hear you are starting to notice improvements Nikki. It’s amazing really what eliminating food sensitivities can do for our health. Good to have you at Hypothyroid Mom.

      • Jocelyn says:

        I was diagnosed with Hashimotos and hypothyroidism over a year ago now and the only thing I was told to do was to take Synthroid. I was bound and determined to help myself and the symptoms I was having so did a lot of research and reading articles upon articles as well as books. I started to take vitaman B as my first option hoping this would help it didn’t . I was so lethargic , tired , fatigued , nauseous and brain fog, could barely get through a day and I knew based on how I felt I shouldn’t have been driving but had no choice. I thought if this feeling carried on I would be on disability very soon. I went to a health food store and met a man there that said he has a dead thyroid and has to take 21 drops of iodine a day . Since doing this his blood tests were level and he was not on medication at all. I was all out of options so I bought some iodine meant for thyroid. When I took it I didn’t realize you should take it with water so I took two drops directly on my tongue and I finally felt awake for the first time in about 2 years. I continued to take 2 drops twice a day and felt amazing. This started to absorb into my system and wasn’t having the same effect anymore and I didn’t feel I should keep increasing the drops per day. I read up on a hashimotos diet and how I should eliminate canola and soy oils from my diet as well as gluten but this wasn’t as important. I removed all completely for 5 months testing here and there adding these things back into my diet but felt a huge difference and felt lethargic again anytime I ate anything with these things in it. I researched every restaurant and found they they cooked their food with canola or soy , only once have a found a restaurant that used olive oil. So needless to say I cut out all restaurant food as well. To this day I have not taken the synthroid and probably never will , my TSH levels are good as long as I don’t have anything with soy, canola oil or gluten in my diet. It has been difficult and have cut out all store bought salad dressings, mayo , most crackers and cereals. It has been worth it. I still from time to time will feel lethargic though which tells me there is probably something more I will have to cut out. Slowly but surely I know if I do this I will fell better. I just wanted to share my story since I felt completely helpless and didn’t have any help at all while going through this. I hope this helps someone out there. I am open to any further ideas from anyone that maybe help me further.

  4. Went to an endocrinologist for the first time today. I’ve had hypo for 13 years, and is now Hashimotos. I also have vitiligo, since 5 years old. The endo I saw today said there is no corolation between gluten and thyroid function. I was shocked, and frankly don’t believe him. Been GF for 6 weeks and do feel better. I’ve read and researched so much on the corolation between the two. Anyone else have a doc say this?

    • I have Hashimoto’s and adrenal insufficiency. My endo is wanting me to do the Whole30 diet. You stated that you felt better being gluten free for six weeks. Do you think it has helped with your fatigue? Did you experience muscle weakness before you went gluten free? I am trying to cut out gluten and I am really hoping it will help with these symptoms for me. I am on 105 mg Armour daily and I don’t know whether it is the med or possibly gluten that are causing these symptoms.

  5. This has helped me put some pieces together about my hypothyroidism and symptoms.
    I’m so glad I’ve found some answers. In the past four months I’ve had what I think we’re anxiety attacks or palpitations ( heart beating really fast) right after I had spaghetti for dinner either the same night or the next day, which of course for me led to indigestion for a straight week! Which at this point I followed the B.R.A.T diet to try to correct or take it easy on my gut. I started to think with this second a( heart racing) of course I had had pasta the night before, I started to put two and two together and because of the information posted here Dana and thank you!!! I’ve come to terms that I may have a gluten sensitivity happening here. Will discuss these issues with my doctor. Also looking to cut gluten out of my diet for the long term. I have t felt like my optimal self for a long time. Looks like I know what to do now.
    Thank you so much!

  6. Darren Piera says:

    Fantastic article! Our family found a definate way to test food intolerance called ImuPro. As suspected gluten was one of the high intolerances in my hashimitos wife and daughter. Wifes migraines have ceased, her vitiligo is improving, and hopefully their hashimotos is on the mend. Thankyou for success where conventional medicine has only treated symptoms.

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