Category Archives: wheat intolerance symptoms
A recent paper published in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics suggests that middle aged women with celiac disease may have up to 50 times the risk of the general population for also having a condition called microscopic colitis– an inflammatory condition which causes persistent, watery diarrhea.
Because of the difficulty in diagnosing microscopic colitis during regular colonoscopies, women in the risk group who also have the symptoms should consider undergoing colonic biopsies, which can be used to detect the condition more reliably. The good news is that microscopic colitis is considered a relatively benign condition, and most sufferers recover with treatment.
After almost two million years spent as nomadic hunter-gatherers, our ancestors learned about ten thousand years ago that they could grow certain types of plants under cultivation to feed themselves, and agriculture was born. Most schoolchildren know that agriculture allowed humans to congregate in cities, paving the way for the vast civilizations that span the globe today.
What very few lay people know is that the advent of agriculture saw an almost instantaneous decline in human health, as measured by the average height, bone density, and dental health of skeletons from that era. What changed?
The answer is diet. Early farmers replaced the hunter gatherer diet of meat, wild-growing vegetables, fruit and nuts with the agricultural diet of grains, legumes, and later, dairy. Unfortunately, while human culture can change on a dime, historically speaking, human physiology and genetics cannot. The beans, wheat, and dairy produced by farmers all contain chemical components that are difficult for the human digestive tract to process, causing irritation, chronic inflammation, and even allergic reactions in many individuals, which today is familiar to us as IBS, lactose intolerance, and wheat intolerance. In addition, grains are not nutrient dense foods– ever wondered why most bread and flour is “enriched”?– so the intake of several important vitamins and minerals was drastically reduced when people switched from hunting and gathering to sowing and reaping.
Today, there is a movement to improve individual health by returning to a diet that more closely resembles what our paleolithic ancestors ate. Called the Paleo or Primal Diet by various practitioners, it involves cutting out all grain, sugar, dairy, and legumes in a bid to heal the digestive tract and provide a rich variety of nutrients from meat, seafood, vegetables, nuts, and fruits to help the body rebuild itself.
I have been on this diet for about two months now, and I am convinced that, for me, this is the way forward to lifelong health after more than a decade of illness and misery. After starting this diet and stopping the birth control pill, I have completely eliminated all digestive discomfort and now consider myself symptom-free and “normal” after more than ten years of IBS.
If you would like to join me on this journey, here are a few resources to help you get started:
- Wheat Intolerance: Why the Food We Eat Is Ruining Our Health (A quick and easy read that gives an overview of the Paleo Diet and the health problems associated with common food intolerance issues.)
- The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Foods You Were Designed to Eat by Dr. Loren Cordain (This is the book I read when I started the diet.)
- Mark’s Daily Apple (The blog of Mark Sisson, author of The Primal Blueprint: Reprogram your genes for effortless weight loss, vibrant health, and boundless energy)
I hope that everyone who tries this diet has the same level of success with it that I have had. I can honestly say that right now, I can’t imagine ever eating any other way again.
The line between irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and wheat intolerance symptoms can seem very blurry. IBS is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning it only applies after other diagnosable conditions have been eliminated. Because the symptoms of IBS can be very similar to celiac disease, celiac disease is one of the diseases which must be investigated before a diagnosis of IBS is given.
People with wheat intolerance symptoms who don’t have celiac disease may want to investigate some of the other tests used to obtain a diagnosis of IBS. These include tests for lactose intolerance, parasitic infections, and fructose malabsorption. The last test, in particular, may be of interest to those who can’t tolerate wheat. Because wheat contains high levels of fructan, it is often a problem for people with fructose malabsorption. However, fructose malabsorption cannot be effectively treated by simply removing wheat from the diet; there are other high-fructose and -fructan foods that also trigger symptoms.
So, if a person knows they can’t tolerate wheat, but also has symptoms after eating a variety of other foods, fructose malabsorption is a possibility that should be checked. If that test comes up negative, further testing may eventually result in a diagnosis of IBS. Unfortunately IBS, like fructose malabsorptin, cannot be cured, only managed. And that management includes avoiding foods which trigger symptoms… like wheat.
With that in mind, are you really any further ahead with a diagnosis than you would have been just cutting out any foods that bother you and cause symptoms? The answer is yes– probably. Because IBS involves eliminating curable and treatable conditions, you will know that there isn’t a simple solution to your digestive issues. How bad would you feel, for instance, finding out years later that all of your problems could have been permanently solved with a round of anti-parasitics?
This must be balanced against the medical costs involved in testing. It may not be practical for someone with poor– or no– medical insurance to pay for all the tests and office visits involved in an IBS diagnosis. In that case, if symptoms can be managed with control of the diet, even with no diagnosis, that’s certainly better than nothing.
Many people who suffer from food-related problems such as wheat intolerance and celiac disease have discovered through trial and error that taking probiotics helps to control their symptoms. Now, Dr. Alessio Fasano of the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland School of Medicine has a theory about why.
In the case of celiac disease, not everyone who has the genetic predisposition to the disease shows symptoms. Some develop the reaction to gluten later than others; some never develop it at all. Dr Fasano wants to know why. He thinks that the expression of symptoms may be tied to changes in the person’s gut bacteria, which can happen naturally throughout their lifetime. Some research has shown that such changes have the power to affect gene expression in the host. While it has yet to be scientifically proven, it follows that treatment with probiotics might prevent the original expression of celiac symptoms in some patients.
Does this mean you should run out and buy some probiotics today? Well, it depends on what results you’re expecting. The only treatment for celiac disease is a gluten-free diet. You can’t take probiotics and then start eating wheat, expecting everything to be okay. In the case of wheat intolerance, which is not an allergic or autoimmune response, probiotics may increase a person’s tolerance… or it may not.
One thing about probiotics, though– they’re perfectly safe, and fairly inexpensive, so there’s no reason not to give them a try. Many people have reported that they feel generally better after taking probiotics, so it might be an experiment worth trying, even if you don’t intend to change your eating habits and gluten consumption afterwards.
The New York Times has a very nice Q&A style article on gluten-free living and celiac disease. Much of the information will also be of interest to those with wheat intolerance and wheat allergy symptoms.
Dr. Sheila Crowe, a professor in the division of gastroenterology and hepatology in the department of medicine at the University of Virginia, recently joined the Consults blog to answer reader questions about celiac disease. Here, Dr. Crowe responds to questions about maintaining a gluten-free diet.
According to the Flour Advisory Bureau, wheat intolerance is like a party in your stomach! http://tinyurl.com/yz3xutb
“Symptoms attributed to wheat intolerance are very similar to the symptoms for a number of other conditions such as stress, IBS – or even a good night out.
• Wheat’s ranking in the list of foods that cause adverse reactions.
It is generally accepted that wheat is not a major cause of adverse reactions to food.”
Wheat intolerance is basically a catch-all term for any negative reaction to wheat which is not celiac (also spelled coeliac) disease or wheat allergy. Those two conditions are diagnosed through blood tests or biopsies which show positive results for antibodies to gluten or other wheat proteins. However, someone can test negative for antibodies and still have a miserable reaction after eating wheat– that’s wheat intolerance.
To make things even more interesting, wheat intolerance symptoms can show up as long as 48 hours after eating wheat… which makes connecting the cause and the effect a real nightmare for an uneducated sufferer. As with wheat allergy, symptoms can be limited to digestive discomfort such as diarrhea, constipation, gas, and cramps, or can extend to skin rashes, itching, eczema, and hay fever-like symptoms including sneezing, cough, runny nose, and itchy, watery eyes.
Wheat intolerance is not a true allergy, though. It involves a completely different part of the immune system. The mechanism is not well understood, but wheat intolerance symptoms are thought to be a result of incomplete digestion of wheat proteins– probably caused by an individuals lack of the particular digestive enzymes needed to complete the job.
Since there aren’t any handy antibodies to test for in the lab, a more hands-on approach is used for diagnosis. The main test is called an elimination diet, because it eliminates wheat. All foods containing gluten are taken out of the person’s diet for a period from a couple of weeks to a couple of months. This can be a real shock to someone used to a western diet, but strict adherence is really, really important. The idea behind the elimination diet is simple: if you suffer from wheat intolerance, your symptoms will disappear once you remove wheat and gluten from your diet for an extended period. If you remove wheat and gluten from your diet for an extended period and your symptoms do not improve, it’s obviously not wheat intolerance.
There is one final part to the diet; if your symptoms improve or disappear, undergoing a challenge test will confirm the diagnosis. A challenge test means suddenly eating large amounts of wheat again, after going gluten-free in the elimination diet. If your symptoms return with a vengeance– bingo! You have wheat intolerance. If that’s the case, it’s time to get serious about a balanced diet free of foods containing gluten.
There’s good news, however. Unlike celiac disease, wheat intolerance sufferers may be able to build up a tolerance to small amounts of wheat eventually. This doesn’t work for everyone, and it doesn’t work for anyone until the body has had a chance to fully heal on a gluten-free diet. After a few months, though, an attempt can be made (preferably with the help of a doctor and/or nutritionist) to introduce tiny amounts of wheat at regular intervals, in hopes of “training” the immune system to ignore it as non-threatening. The concept is similar to that behind allergy shots, although the exact mechanism is a bit different.
It’s certainly worth trying once your body has recovered from the stress of wheat intolerance, but, whether it works or it doesn’t, you will appreciate the feelings of health and vigor that seemed so far away when you were weighed down by your wheat intolerance symptoms.