What Are Wheat Intolerance Symptoms?
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.
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