Headaches, skin rashes, skin breakouts, brain fog, depression, anxiety, ADHD and even anemia may be sly symptoms of gluten intolerance–even if you have tested negative for celiac disease. And even if you’ve never had any of the digestive discomfort that most people recognize as the primary symptom of gluten intolerance.
You see, conventional tests done by your doctor may only be showing you a small part of the picture. While the standard gluten lab test may turn up negative, you can still be having a serious physical and mental reaction to gluten and other components in wheat, rye and barley.
Here’s the reason–
Wheat contains more than just the ‘gluten’ that you react to. Wheat contains several proteins including gliadin, alpha gliadin, glutenins, agglutinins, and prodynorphins that can cause reactions.
When wheat is eaten, the body begins to break down these proteins in the digestive tract. Enzymes called tissue transglutaminases (tTGs) are produced. During this process, additional proteins are formed called deamidated gliadins and gliadorphins. Yes, I know that is a lot to ‘digest’, but stay with me on this–
Celiac disease does major damage to the small intestine and destroys its sensitive lining that absorbs nutrients from food. When you are tested for celiac disease, you are tested for only ONE specific gliadin, alpha gliadin and tissue transgluaminase, tTG-2.
But here’s some VERY important points to consider:
- People can and do react negatively to other components in wheat and gluten that are not included in the standard celiac/gluten intolerance test.
- Even if you test negative for celiac disease you can have serious negative reactions to other wheat proteins or transglutaminases.
- For every ONE case of celiac disease diagnosed, 6.4 cases of gluten intolerance remain undiagnosed — many with NO gastrointestinal symptoms at all. That means that only about 15 percent of people with gluten issues are actually diagnosed.
- Gluten intolerance can be a real health problem. This is called Non Celiac Gluten Sensitivity or NCGS.
Silent Celiac Disease
The common symptoms that most physicians recognize as being associated with celiac disease are bloating, gas, indigestion and diarrhea. What is less common are some of the other physical symptoms—some of the serious—of gluten intolerance, that may not even include any digestive symptoms at all.
Gluten intolerance can manifest itself in a variety of ways in different body systems, making it a tricky masquerader. This insidious condition can affect nearly every system in the body including brain, nervous system, bones, teeth, skin, endocrine system, liver, blood vessels, and of course the digestive system.
Brain fog can happen as a result of inflammation, and inflammation is one of the hallmarks of this health issue. Brain fog can occur in the morning when you first wake up, hours after you’ve ingested gluten, or can happen right after eating foods containing gluten. Brain fog makes you feel excessively tired and fatigued, with a feeling of fogginess, making it hard to focus or think clearly.
Depression and Anxiety
At least a quarter of those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance report anxiety or depression frequently. Studies show that those with celiac disease or NCGS have reported that they are much more likely to feel anxious, have panic disorder, social phobias, ADHD or depression.
Another way to look at this is if you have any issues with anxiety, depression, or ADHD, you should strongly consider eliminating ALL gluten from your diet for at least 2-3 weeks to see if you have an improvement in symptoms. It is very possible that these symptoms are a manifestation of either silent celiac disease or NCGS.
Headaches and Migraine
Headaches and migraines have a strong connection to gluten reactions as well. In fact, people with celiac disease and NCGS report having headaches and migraines at a much higher rate than the rest of the population. If you have frequent headaches or migraines, it’s time to consider removing gluten from your diet.
A 2018 review of multiple studies published in Nutrients found that the prevalence of headaches reported in those who had diagnosed celiac disease was 26 percent, significantly higher than control groups without celiac sensitivity. The review also noted that headaches and migraines, were often reported as the first symptom of celiac disease—a far cry from the usual digestive issues.
To back up this up, another study in the medical journal Headache found that 56% of people with reported gluten sensitivity, and 30% of those with diagnosed celiac disease, suffered from chronic headaches compared to only 14% of people in the non-celiac control group.
Skin Rashes and Eczema
People with silent celiac disease (no digestive symptoms) or NCGS can also develop painful burning rashes, psoriasis, or other undefined dermatitis. This occurs after consuming foods with gluten in them, although it may be very difficult to discover the connection if there are no corresponding digestive symptoms to go with this.
The most common skin disorder connected to gluten causes is a painful rash called dermatitis herpetiformis. DH is actually a skin condition closely linked to celiac disease or NCGS.
One of the hallmarks of this skin condition is that the reaction to gluten occurs primarily in the skin, but no obvious intestinal discomfort is apparent. While people with DH are at the same risk for the complications suffered by people with celiac disease, as many as 20% of people with DH may have a normal intestinal biopsy.
DH can be diagnosed definitively with a skin biopsy. If you have odd itchy rashes or scaly skin, eliminate all gluten from your diet and see what happens. You may notice a positive result immediately.
[Personally, I suddenly started having horrible, burning, extremely itchy rashes all over my face and neck in my mid 40’s. I had no digestive symptoms to speak of. Although I went to several doctors no one could find a cause. It took me two full years of eliminating possible irritating foods, lotions, and soaps to figure out a connection. Once I removed all gluten from my diet, no more rashes!]
Iron deficiency anemia is a very common trait linked to both celiac disease and NCGS. Some research notes that it may often be the FIRST noticeable connection to celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, and up to 75 percent of those who have been diagnosed with anemia may also be gluten intolerant. Studies show that anemia is reported as the most frequent symptom of adult celiac disease or NCGS.
Gluten disorders interfere with absorption of iron, vitamins and other minerals in the gut and anemia tends to be one of the first signs of malabsorption. Even worse, anemia makes one feel tired and weak, further exacerbating the fatigue that gluten can cause.
Long Term Damage Caused by Celiac Disease or NCGS
If the above health symptoms don’t get your attention about the possibility of eliminating gluten from your diet, take a look at the list below. These diseases often result from long-term exposure to gluten—whether it is celiac disease, silent celiac disease or NCGS. These include:
- Multiple Sclerosis and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
- Thyroid Disorders
- Peripheral Neuropathy
- Gluten Ataxia
One study actually found a very strong link to gluten sensitivity and neurological conditions of unknown origin. And for some people with gluten sensitivity, the primary symptom they experienced was neurological dysfunction. The data suggests that nearly 60 percent of people with neurological dysfunction of unknown origin test positive for anti-gliadin antibodies.
What about you? Are you or anyone you know experiencing any of the above health issues? Even if you have tested negative for gluten or don’t have any of the usual digestive reactions to gluten, gluten may still be the root cause for some of your nagging health problems.
There is no ‘for-sure’ test for non-celiac gluten sensitivity, but as many as 1 out of 20 Americans may have this malady. And unfortunately, many doctors still do not believe that NCGS even exists in spite of it being validated as a real clinical condition.
Since conventional medical doctors may still be hesitant to connect gluten to various health issues. I still believe the very best test for gluten reactions is to do an elimination diet for 30 days, and then reintroduce it for 48 hours, eating it at every meal. Record all physical, mental and emotional symptoms ranging from 1 hour after gluten ingestion to 48 hours after the last gluten consumed.
The majority of studies here have investigated whether or not certain health issues are signs of gluten intolerance, and whether or not they can be addressed by going gluten free. And it turns out, these health problems—including the serious health problems—improved or totally resolved when following a gluten-free diet.
According to Dr. Chris Kresser, this test by Cyrex Laboratories offers a comprehensive blood panel that will screen for all wheat and gluten proteins. Even then, it should not totally replace a gluten challenge. Note: this blood test will need to be ordered by your physician or another healthcare provider.
Whether you may have silent or atypical celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, it is important to eliminate gluten from your diet to avoid long term damage to your bones, brain, nerves, digestive system, and more.