Tag Archives: wheat intolerance symptoms
I recently had a very interesting and disturbing revelation about my own health and tribulations with food intolerance, including wheat intolerance. I have been on the birth control pill for about thirteen years, and am now pushing forty years old. For much of that thirteen years, I’ve struggled with numerous health problems, the most notable being clinical depression and multiple food allergies and intolerances.
Two months ago, I realized that my scariest and most painful, debilitating digestive episodes, while they did not occur every month, always occurred on a multiple of twenty-eight days apart, plus or minus one day. We’re talking episodes that, on one memorable occasion, caused me to pass out on the bathroom floor from the pain in my gut. Episodes where, a couple of different times, I would totally have called for an ambulance (something I’ve never done in my life) if I could only have gotten to the phone… but I couldn’t, and I was alone in the house, and when it finally subsided some half hour or forty-five minutes later, I was okay again– for a given definition of “okay”.
Every twenty-eight, or fifty-six, or eighty-four days (plus or minus one day), this would happen. I only noticed the coincidence because it always hit me in the morning, and there were always three active birth control pills left in my monthly pack when I would eventually stumble out into the kitchen and try to drink and eat something. It probably wouldn’t have taken me years to make the connection if it had happened every month, but it didn’t. However, make the connection, I eventually did, and I went off the pill three days later, at the end of a pack.
Want to waste an hour or two online? Do a Google search for “birth control pill” IBS. The disheartening part is that the pages and pages of material that you’ll find are all anecdotal. Apparently, there’s no incentive for medical research into possible links between oral contraceptives and digestive disorders– and plenty of doctors out there who pooh-pooh women who come to them asking if their birth control might be making them sick.
Nonetheless, dig deeper and you’ll find plenty of information about the side effects of the pill that no one warned you about: massive dietary vitamin and mineral depletion, especially of vitamins B and C, magnesium and zinc. B-2, in particular, is vital for carbohydrate metabolism. Is this the cause of your wheat intolerance? What about your aching joints, depression, anemia, and lethargy? These are all symptoms of deficiencies in the vitamins and minerals blocked by the pill. Except for the joint problems (in my case, much of the joint damage already appears to be done), every one of these symptoms has eased dramatically in the thirty-one days since I stopped taking the birth control pill.
I am now starting the the paleolithic diet — which is totally free of all grains and dairy– in hopes of further improving my health, but my non-celiac wheat intolerance was markedly improved during the couple of weeks between stopping the pill and starting the new diet. So, does this article constitute medical advice for women with non-celiac, non-allergic wheat intolerance who also happen to be on the pill? Hardly. But it certainly is food for thought.
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.
Celiac sufferers have long wondered if their condition runs in families, placing their children at risk for the disease. Only in the last few years has it been practical to have genetic testing done… but is it worth it to do so?
Here’s the low-down:
95% of people who are positively diagnosed with celiac disease via alternate methods such as intestinal biopsy also test positive for a particular gene called H.L.A. DQ2. An additional 5% test positive for the gene H.L.A. DQ8. The practical upshot is, if you don’t have either of these genes, you really don’t have to worry about celiac disease.
However, just because you test positive on one or the other of these genes, it doesn’t mean that you have celiac disease. In fact, only about 2 or 3% of people with these genes will get celiac disease. In other words, not having these genes means you don’t have celiac disease. Having these genes means you have a 2-3% chance of having or getting celiac disease.
This means that the greatest value of genetic testing for celiac lies in cases where celiac disease is suspected, but diagnosis is inconclusive. By acting as a reliable indicator that a person does NOT have celiac disease, genetic testing can ease a patient’s mind, and aid in narrowing down the symptoms to other related conditions such as wheat allergy or wheat intolerance.
Since 60-65% of the population do not carry the genes, and therefore do not have celiac disease, genetic testing can greatly reduce the number of suspected celiac cases.
The bottom line? If you have no symptoms, genetic testing is of limited value. But if you do have symptoms and are struggling with an inconclusive diagnosis, genetic testing that is negative for H.L.A. DQ2 and DQ8 can put your mind at ease and free you to pursue other diagnoses such as wheat allergy or wheat intolerance.
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.
The vast majority of wheat consumed in the world today is either common wheat (also called bread wheat) or durum wheat (used to make semolina). But these forms are relatively new, historically speaking. Several species of ancient wheat plants are making a bit of a comeback as people become more concerned about their own health and the dwindling diversity of plant crops. These include spelt, einkorn, and emmer wheat varieties, all of which have been cultivated for food from ancient times.
All three of these plants contain gliadin, the part of gluten which is implicated in celiac disease, and as such, they are probably not appropriate for celiac sufferers. That said, there is some evidence that einkorn wheat’s gliadin is chemically different from that of other wheat, and that it is less toxic to celiac sufferers than other varieties.
However, all of these wheat varieties may be of interest to those with wheat intolerance and wheat allergy symptoms. They are genetically very dissimilar to common and durum wheat, and many with wheat intolerance and allergy can tolerate one or more of the ancient varieties quite well. As with any experimentation, care should be taken when introducing new foods into the diet. If wheat intolerance or allergy symptoms have been severe in the past, introducing ancient grains may not be worth the potential health risks at all, but should definitely only be attempted under the guidance of a health professional.
For some with wheat intolerance and wheat allergies, though, einkorn, emmer, and spelt may offer a chance to once again enjoy common baked goods that were previously off limits.
For more information, and to purchase flour from ancient grains, check out the following sites:
Finally, here’s a video from the UK showing how to bake a loaf of bread using spelt flour:
For those in the US, 170 degrees Celsius is 350 degrees Fahrenheit; 190C is 375F.
10. It’s not normal to get “food poisoning” (cramps and diarrhea) several times a month.
9. Two-day-long migraines don’t have to be a weekly occurrence. Who knew?
8. There’s a difference between feeling full and satisfied, and feeling sluggish and bloated.
7. Your early thirties is a bit (okay, a lot) young to have arthritic joint problems… even if you do lead an “active lifestyle”.
6. It’s not normal to spend half of every day with gas so bad that it’s a struggle not to double over in pain when no one’s watching.
5. Most people don’t have cravings that lead them to scarf down half a loaf of bread in one sitting just because it “smells really good”.
4. Most people don’t have the urge to devour half a batch of raw, unbaked pie crust dough because they “like the taste”.
3. Most people don’t have to run to the bathroom thirty minutes after every. Single. Meal.
2. Most brands of soy sauce contain more wheat than they do soy. Perhaps the should call it “wheat sauce”?
And the top thing that I realized after finding out I had wheat intolerance…
1. Despite what I originally thought, life without foods containing gluten really is worth living. In fact, it’s quite a bit more pleasant to live when you don’t feel like death warmed over half of the time.
Happy Gluten-Free Thanksgiving, everyone!
You may have seen the ads online or in magazines– “Use These Pills and Eat Wheat with No Problems!”. The product in question is marketed as “glutenase”, and the implication is that it is a special enzyme which breaks down gluten in the digestive system and makes it harmless to those with wheat intolerance. So… is it any good?
Well, that’s debatable. First off, scientifically speaking, there’s no such thing as “glutenase”. It’s a catch-all term for several enzymes which act on gluten, among other things. Studies conducted in vitro (i.e., in a Petri dish) and in animals have shown that various combinations of enzymes are effective at breaking down gluten molecules into smaller parts. The most promising enzymes are called aspergillopepsin (ASP), dipeptidyl peptidase IV (DPP-IV), and cysteine endoprotease (EP-B2). That said, at least one study in monkeys has shown an unexpected rise in gluten-specific antibodies in the blood after both gluten and EP-B2 were administered. This may be because the smaller, partially-digested gluten molecules can more readily pass through the intestinal lining and into the blood stream, where they can provoke an immune response.
For this reason, people with celiac disease should not attempt to use glutenase pills as a way to consume gluten. Unfortunately, with celiac disease, a diet free of foods containing gluten is the only way to go. Similarly, those with wheat allergy are risking an allergic response after eating wheat, regardless of how many enzymes they take.
The one place where glutenase supplements may have some use is in the case of wheat intolerance, which does not involve an allergic immune response. After a period on a strict gluten-free diet, once symptoms have disappeared for several weeks, someone who has been positively diagnosed with wheat intolerance (as opposed to celiac disease or wheat allergy) can begin to experiment cautiously with reintroducing gluten. This would be the appropriate circumstance for trying glutenase pills.
As with all dietary supplements, do a bit of research to see if a specific brand is reputable. Check to see if they list one or more of the specific enzymes above as ingredients, as opposed to just saying “glutenase”. See if they offer any information about clinical trials (they probably won’t– there don’t seem to be any published human trials). If the brand seems reputable, try it.
In the largely unregulated world of dietary supplements, it’s up to the consumer to determine if something works for them or not. At best, a glutenase supplement will help you eat foods containing gluten without suffering wheat intolerance symptoms. At worst, it won’t. Until more serious scientific research is done, the only way to find out if a specific product will work for you is to try it cautiously.
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.