“How do I know if I’m Gluten Intolerant?”
This is literally a question I get asked weekly, so I wanted to take a minute and point out some of the signs you might have if you’re gluten intolerant. No signs and symptoms are the same for everyone, and they can vary depending on how old you are / how heavy you are / your hormones / and even what type of gluten you ingested.
I’ve covered my “why” and my origin story of becoming gluten intolerant in other videos, and I’ll share that in future posts (as well as a book coming out soon), but for now, here’s a “quick and dirty” guide to symptoms you MAY experience if you’re gluten intolerant:
- All the GI stuff: Could be constipation, diarrhea, black or tarry stools, stool that floats, or even pencil shaped stool r teeny tiny bits of stool. You may struggle a lot and view the toilet as your enemy, and if you do, this might be you I’m talking about.
- All the stomach stuff: Could be gas, bloating, a stomach that protrudes out (looks like you’re pregnant, especially after eating pizza or bread), general discomfort
- Intestinal pain not otherwise mentioned: I described it to my loved ones as “stabbies” — it felt like someone was literally taking a knife and stabbing me in the area between my belly button and uterus.
- Vomiting: This doesn’t happen to everyone all the time, but it does happen. For me I would vomit (and still do) after pure liquid gluten like soy sauce and/or beer, and I would continue to throw up every hour on the hour until someone took me to the hospital. I once threw up 70 times. If you’re throwing up over and over, and there’s nothing left in your system, and you AREN’T sick otherwise, it’s potentially food poisoning, or potentially some type of wheat/gluten allergy.
- Esophagus pain: I used to get esophagus pain and discomfort so bad I’d have to take off my bra because it’d press so hard against my esophagus. It could feel swollen, or uncomfortable, or you might even in extreme cases have trouble swallowing.
- Irritability: You might feel depressed, mean, angry for no reason, terrified, or have crazy mood swings. You might feel panicked for no reason.
- Exhaustion: You might be tired, all the time, for no reason.
- Shortness of breath: You may feel like you can’t breathe.
- Heartburn: This is a pretty big one, most everyone who’s had some kind of gluten problem that I personally know has had this at one point or another.
- Indigestion: Everyone gets indigestion at some point but if it’s severe, or happening daily, or accompanied by heartburn and frequent, you may have something going on.
- Loss of hair: If you have clumps of hair falling out, it might be something else, but it also could be poor nutrition from low nutrient absorption (a common Celiac / gluten intolerant problem) or even from using shampoo or conditioner that’s full of wheat.
- Brittle or breaking nails: Could be a sign of other things but also could be poor nutrition
- Low iron or Low D3: Could be signs of other things, but also could be poor nutritional absorption, due to gluten intolerance/leaky gut/Celiac disease. You’d be SHOCKED at the correlation between Gluten Intolerance and a lack of Vitamin D.
- Headaches: This was a HUGE one for me. Could be minor, could be migraines.
- Foggy Mind: You may feel confused or disoriented. If it’s severe, it could be something really big, but if it’s minor, may be a gluten intolerance.
- Foggy Vision: Could be an eyesight problem, but also could be a gluten intolerance.
- Numbness and Tingles: Could be some kind of nerve/back/neck problem, but also a gluten intolerance. I used to slap my arms all the time and people probably thought I was a drug addict.
SO…. if you have any of these problems, you MIGHT have something else wrong with you, whether it be a psychological disorder, a vision problem, a pulled muscle, or even something more serious— but if you have a huge combination of these problems, that you haven’t been able to figure out, and an obvious problem hasn’t revealed itself from doctor’s visits and blood work, you MAY have a gluten intolerance.
It’s important to note that because many people who suffer from malabsorption / leaky gut have a low vitamin D level, but a lot of people with low vitamin D have a higher incidence of things like cancer, hypertension, and autoimmune diseases (which can make gluten symptoms even worse), so this can lead you on a downward spiral quickly. If you don’t listen to another word I say, please at least get your vitamin D levels checked.
“So what do I do now?”
You have a couple of options, ranging from the free and DIY to the expensive.
1: Stop eating gluten and see what happens — You’ve heard of an elimination diet, where you avoid certain foods until you feel better. The gluten one is pretty hard core because you immediately have to avoid bread, anything with flour, baked goods, and most soups, chocolates, and salad dressings (unless you’re really good at label reading or have a friend or this guide to help you), but you should notice a difference pretty immediately. They say 2 weeks, I noticed it in 2 days. I’m working on my own list, but for now, here is a list of foods that contain gluten.
2: Get an Allergy Test or Over-the-Counter Genetic Testing — I recommend IdentAllergy, and it’s pretty expensive (though not as expensive as most doctor visits) and it’s a buccal swab/ spit in a cup and mail it away test (they also get you to cut some of your hair), the results come back just like an Ancestry or 23andMe test, and they reveal foods you have an intolerance to. There are different brands of the test for different amounts of money, but you can do a food one, a nutritional one, an environment one (with things like grass, roaches, dander, etc) and some genetic testing. My test revealed that I was intolerant to not only gluten, wheat, barley, and rye, as expected, but some other foods that I had no idea I was allergic to (or only a mild suspicion) , like beets, clams, and tiger nuts. And I thought I was sick from salads because of the dressing.
These tests are often available on Groupon. The IdentAllergy one is not currently available (that I found), but I did find another company with similar testing available on Groupon here: https://www.groupon.com/deals/n-check-my-body-health-food-sensitivity-intolerance-testing
3: See a Doctor and get a Blood Test — At any point you can see a doctor and get a blood test, although gluten insensitivity/ Celiac’s disease is a weird one. It will often show up as a vitamin D deficiency, and not necessarily as a gluten intolerance problem. Even if it does mark you as gluten intolerant, it’s not a hard and fast test and doctors usually don’t take the results as doctrine, which is why most recommend that you get a biopsy (see below), but that may lead to you having to take a gluten challenge before the test (read below), which is not a very fun thing where you purposely eat gluten and bread a few times every day. It’s necessary for many blood tests too, although sometimes, you may just choose to test for the genetic marker, which you can do easily in the test I mentioned above under allergy & genetic testing.
As an aside, there’s also a leaky gut test that you can take by drinking a certain fluid and then breathing into a vial which is then sent for breath testing, but I literally didn’t take mine (after the test was already mixed) because I realized my particular fluid was compromised of some dye and some artificial sugar, neither of which I can have. I found another company online who does a coloring free / artificial sugar free formula, and I’m waiting on that one to be able to take this test.
4: Get a Biopsy — Getting a biopsy is easier said than done. Not only is it expensive, not always covered by insurance, and involved (it involves an endoscope going through parts of your stomach and intestines, taking tissue samples along the way), the worst part about a biopsy is that you HAVE to eat gluten for a period of 2-6 weeks before the test to get accurate results. Meaning that if you’ve eliminated gluten from your diet and had some success with that, you immediately have to go back on it, do not pass go, do not collect $200. And this can be ROUGH, especially when your body has already adapted to not having the gluten in your system.
Because of this, many people (myself included) have opted not to do this procedure, and to just trust the fact that our bodies violently reject gluten as enough proof that our bodies cannot tolerate gluten. Recently, I saw a GI specialist known for solving “weird GI problems” and he advised me to continue to eat gluten free, and to squash any notion of making myself more ill to take this test, to prove, what he says, I already know.
If you’re brand new though into having problems, and haven’t yet tried the gluten free diet, this may be something to consider if your insurance covers it.
I’m obviously not a doctor and just sharing my own personal story combined with facts and advice and research from the internet, the people in this group, doctors I’ve spoken with, and years of experience, but feel free to do more research if this is something you’re interested in.
Here are a few more links for additional reading below:
Also, feel free to take this symptom checklist assessment from Celiac.org, it also includes a $3.00 off coupon of Schär products with your results.
To living Gluten Free in New Orleans,
The Gluten Free Guide to New Orleans