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Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance

by jenny sansouci on March 21, 2012

I rarely eat gluten. Not because I have a gluten allergy or I necessarily think I’m gluten intolerant (I’ve never gotten tested or done enough experimenting to know for sure). In general, I just feel better without it. It makes me feel sluggish, and sometimes it’s like I can actually feel it converting to sugar in my body. That may sound weird, but my body is very sensitive to sugar, and eating anything with gluten usually feels the same way.

Although eating food with gluten is a rare occurrence, sometimes I’m just not thinking about it and it slips in. Today, I was up in Maine and had fish tacos on flour tortillas. I thought, hey, these little tortillas probably won’t be that big of a deal. About 30 mins after lunch was over, I felt really fatigued and had a pounding headache.

Now, whether this was from the gluten or not, it led me to think about the many symptoms of gluten intolerance and what other people are experiencing. I put this message on Facebook and Twitter:

“Gluten-free friends: what are the symptoms that come up if you do eat gluten?”

I got the following responses:

  • Bloated
  • Puffy
  • Stomach pains
  • Sluggish
  • Eczema
  • Dental issues
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Sleepy
  • Drowsy
  • Swollen
  • Sneezy
  • Itchy
  • Foggy head
  • Cramps
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Breakouts
  • Gas
  • Moodiness
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Soreness
  • Stuffy nose
  • Anxiety
  • Dark circles under eyes
  • Back pain

Whoa! That’s a lot of stuff that can be attributed to eating gluten!

If you’re wondering, having a gluten allergy or celiac disease is not the same thing as having a gluten sensitivity or intolerance. With an actual allergy, your body has an immune response and your intestines are actually physically damaged. If you have a sensitivity to gluten, the effects on your physical body are generally less severe, but you may experience a variety of symptoms, such as the ones above. (Read more here: difference between gluten sensitivity and celiac disease). Treatment of both allergy and sensitivity is a gluten-free diet.

So, my friends — if you’ve been experiencing any of the above symptoms, I’d suggest you remove gluten completely from your diet and see if your symptoms start to clear up.

If you’d like to get tested for celiac, ask your doctor. From what I’ve learned, the best way to test for celiac disease is an intestinal biopsy (eeeeek), but it sounds like there are blood tests as well. Gluten-free/celiac friends, feel free to comment below and let me know if you have more info on that.

What has gluten in it?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat and related grains, including barley and rye. In general, all breads, pastries, pastas, flours, cakes, cookies, baked goods, cereals, etc have gluten in them unless they are specifically labeled as gluten-free.

Some of my favorite gluten-free grains are quinoa, millet and brown rice. For baking, I’ve used almond flour and oat flour (make sure the oat flour is labeled gluten free).

For more on gluten intolerance, check out these books:

Thanks to everyone who contributed their answers for this post. If you have any other input on gluten, please feel free to comment below!

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Stephanie March 21, 2012 at 7:03 pm

Just looking at that picture of wheat is making me experience almost every single symptom you listed. Yikes! Finding out I had a gluten intolerance was a huge relief. It lead me to question all things food related and find IIN so I can help others who suffer from gluten intolerance as well.


jenny sansouci March 21, 2012 at 7:14 pm

Thanks for your input, Stephanie – I’m glad your gluten intolerance led you to IIN – what blessing in disguise. 🙂


Caitlin March 21, 2012 at 11:02 pm

Sorry I didn’t see your call for symptoms!
In addition to some of the symptoms you listed I also sleep badly and have feet and leg cramps. Thanks for your post!


Rachel March 22, 2012 at 8:55 am

Hi Jenny,
As far as testing goes, we found out the hard way with my son, who was 4 at the time, that we didn’t need to have a colonoscopy/endoscopy to get a conclusive answer. Unfortunately, we found that out after both were performed 🙁 Another gastro doctor recommended doing a simple blood test that checked for a celiac gene. The labs had to be sent to CA, but it revealed that my son did not carry the gene for celiac, which means technically he can never have the “disease.” It does not help however with revealing intolerances or sensitivities, (which by the way I agree 100% with you on as I personally have gone gluten free since January and feel amazing and worlds better!) However, if someone is concerned they or a family member might have celiac, this is much better, less intrusive way to get an answer! Worth looking into…


Nicolette March 23, 2012 at 8:40 pm

Hi Jenny,
My son is GF since the age of 3 (he is now almost 7). He was not speaking at 3 and his behavior was very poor. We had him tested and he has a severe Gluten sensitivity. Once on the diet he was talking and behavior change A LOT!
Anytime he has had any gluten, he is out of sorts, hyper, foggy.
GF diet changed his life and ours. My focus in IIN and now as a holistic health coach is on Gluten intolerances.

Love ya, Nicolette


Danielle May 4, 2012 at 7:57 am

The more I research gluten, the more I can’t believe how awful many people from eating it. I’m currently in the process of eliminating gluten to see if it will help me feel better (I’ve been chronically fatigued for YEARS, as well as having several other symptoms on your list above). I’ve a few more weeks to go before I can make a determination on how eliminating gluten makes me feel, but I have already noticed that I’m starting to lose weight just from not eating all those carbs.

My doctor has adviced me to try bringing gluten back into my diet (after I’ve been gluten free for eight weeks) to see how it makes me feel. I am looking forward to seeing if eating gluten at that time brings on any uncomfortable or painful symptoms. Might sound strange that I’m looking forward to that, but if I have a bad reaction, it will be a relief to finally know what is causing my misery.


Danielle June 17, 2012 at 1:41 am

Gluten allergy is technically different than Celiac Disease. Celiac Disease is in the auto-immune disease category with things like Arthritis. The presence of gluten prompts the intestines to attack themselves. In our family, the blood test is inaccurate. We get false negatives. For most people it is accurate and certainly less expensive and intrusive than a biopsy.


Kayla April 16, 2013 at 1:08 am

Thank you so much for this! My doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong but once I started cutting gluten, I have felt SO much better. I have more energy and my appetite is back.


Sierra January 10, 2014 at 7:23 pm

Hi, I’ve been dealing with many of these symptoms for years. I’ve seen doctors but never got help out a diagnosis. My sister (with the same symptoms as I) is a diagnosed celiac. I’m only 27 and I’ve had dark under eye circles for years- plus thin hair, severe digestive problems, anxiety, brain fog and debilitating fatigue (among other problems! ) I know right away when I’ve been ‘glutened’ I feel exhausted and gross and I got a tummy Ache/cramping. I am still new to the GF lifestyle and keep accidentally exposing myself. I made bread (regular, chock full of gluten) for my family twice this week and even just the skin contact with kneading the flour has brought on crushing fatigue. I’m glad though to have an answer for what had been going on these past few years. Btw I suspect they many in the celiac/ gluten intolerant crowd also have problems with grains in general. Eating gluten free pasta and the like make me feel sluggish too.


Jannie November 2, 2014 at 4:57 pm

I’ve had hives for years and take a Claritin everyday to keep them under control. The allergist said it would be tough figuring out what food it was so just take the Claritin. Recently I’ve felt awful-sluggish, foggy, bloated, when I’ve eaten baked goods or anything with flour and sugar in it. I tried a chocolate chip cookie recipe from the Paleo diet today and I didn’t feel bad after I ate them. it just showed me that I’m sensitive to gluten and maybe some other carbohydrates. And I do seem to be more sensitive to sugars lately. I’m going to the doctor to take a blood test to see if any food allergies or sensitivities can be found.


joe June 12, 2015 at 9:25 pm

I feel the sooooo tired when I eat flour tortillas, no wonder mexicans take a siesta! I’m thinking the headache you got was from MSG they added it gets me every time.


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