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Symptoms of gluten intolerance or non-celiac gluten sensitivity mirror symptoms of celiac disease, but ultimately, non-celiac gluten sensitivity is an “innate immune response, as opposed to an adaptive immune response (such as autoimmune) or allergic reaction,” says the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA).

Despite these symptoms or signs being largely identical to celiac symptoms, a characteristic of non-gluten sensitivity is “brain fog” (as listed as the third sign). If you are worried about gluten sensitivity, try and identify if you have any or one of these symptoms, and avoid gluten as much as possible. You cannot definitively identify if you have gluten sensitivities by taking a celiac disease test because non-celiac gluten sensitivity does not damage the intestines quite like celiac disease.

The NFCA, however, states that “individuals who have gluten-related symptoms but test negative for a wheat allergy may have non-celiac gluten sensitivity.” These signs may be seen immediately after gluten consumption or they may be a product of long-term consumption of the protein. These symptoms can be mutually exclusive or may present themselves in conjunction with another symptom or several. With that being said, it is still wise to avoid gluten if you exhibit any of these symptoms.

1. Acne, Flushed Complexion, or Rashes

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity can manifest itself as a chronic skin condition like a rash, acne, or red/flushed cheeks, but these skin conditions could also be hormonal. In fact, dermatitis herpetiformis (DH), characterized by rashes and chronically itchy elbows, knees, buttocks, back, and the back of neck, has been associated with gluten sensitivity.

2. Distended Stomach or Bloating

A distended or bloated stomach applies especially after gluten consumption and is a fairly clear sign of gluten sensitivity. A distended stomach is also characteristic of malnutrition as well of celiac disease.

3. Brain Fog or Migraines

As aforementioned, brain fog is a major characteristic of non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Chronic or debilitating migraines goes hand in hand with the idea of brain fog and results in depression or irritability.

4. Diarrhea or Gas or Constipation

These two symptoms can simultaneously occur after eating gluten and may be a sign of intolerance because, especially the former, is a way for the body to expel harmful allergens or other substances. Often, diarrhea (frequent loose or liquid stools) occurs with gas, resulting in a “feeling of a full or tight abdomen” as put by the NFCA. Constipation, essentially the antithesis of diarrhea, is also a symptom of non-celiac gluten sensitivity and is characterized by infrequent, hard, painful bowel movements from lack of physical activity or poor diet, namely a diet high in refined carbs rich in gluten.

5. Joint Pain or Numbness in Extremities

Tingling, pain, or numbness in the joints or extremities is abnormal and should be a clear sign of a health problem like gluten intolerance or celiac disease. Colloquially, this tingling is described as “pins and needles” or a limb being “asleep.” If this happens frequently for no apparent reason, it could be a sign of gluten intolerance.

Total elimination of the gluten protein for an extended period of time, say two weeks or a month, is the only true way to identify if these symptoms are linked to gluten intolerance, and even then, it would not be certain. If the protein is eliminated and any of the above symptoms dissipate, then it should be noted that gluten intolerance may be an issue, but be sure to consult a professional for solid proof.

Image source: Stacy / Wikimedia Commons

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