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Gluten Digestive Issues Explained

Posted March 08, 2021 by Amin O. Mahdi, M.D.

Amin O. Mahdi, M.D.

Gluten intolerance or sensitivity, gluten allergy and celiac disease all have one thing in common - you guessed it, a problem with gluten. The term “gluten-free” has exploded across brand and food marketing the last decade; you can find it on many restaurant menus and products in the grocery store. While this wording may seem like a fad, it’s important to remember that people who have issues with gluten can have terrible, debilitating problems with their digestive tracts.

Before we get into gluten-related digestive issues, let’s explore why gluten is found everywhere. Gluten is a protein complex that makes up to 85 percent of the protein found in bread wheat (and barley and rye). This complex is also what helps foods maintain their shape, essentially “gluing” the food together. Normally associated with bread and pasta, gluten can actually be found in a variety of foods that you may not expect.

There is a thorough list of items that contain gluten here, but it’s always important to read labels if you have a sensitivity to gluten or celiac disease. Soups, salad dressings and food colors are just a few things you have to check ingredient labels for.

There are several different ways gluten can affect an individual: gluten intolerance, gluten sensitivity and celiac disease. The main differences between a food allergy and a food sensitivity is your body’s physical response to the food item or group. If an allergy is causing the issue, your immune system is fighting the allergy as if it’s a toxin. If it’s an intolerance or sensitivity to a food, it’s a reaction triggered by your digestive system.

A few signs or symptoms of gluten intolerance include:

  • Abdominal pain:Specifically after ingesting food, this is the single most common indicator of a gluten issue.
  • Bloating: Research suggests up to 87 percent of people with gluten sensitivity experience severe bloating. A very uncomfortable symptom, bloating can make your stomach feel full of gas or even swollen. While this symptom alone accounts for several different digestive issues, in combination with the ones below, it is a strong indicator of gluten-related issues.
  • Diarrhea, constipation and uncomfortable bowel movements: Another fairly common digestive issue on its own, diarrhea and/or constipation can be a sign of celiac disease when paired with other symptoms. In celiac patients, it is actually caused by the inflammation in the gut after an individual consumes gluten. This consumption damages the gut lining and can cause extreme digestive disruption, including diarrhea, constipation and painful bowel movements. Frequent cases of diarrhea are not only uncomfortable, they can lead to other health problems, including dehydration and fatigue.
  • Skin issues: Gluten can cause a variety of issues internally but it can also show up externally. Dermatitis herpetiformis is a skin disorder caused specifically by celiac disease. Psoriasis can also be affected by gluten. Research has shown success in treating skin issues by eliminating gluten from a patient’s diet.
  • Anxiety, depression and tiredness: Tiredness after a heavy meal is not necessarily a health concern. However, prolonged bouts of tiredness following meals containing gluten is. Especially with celiac disease, individuals who suffer from digestive issues tend to be more prone to depression and anxiety than those who do not.

    What is celiac disease?

    Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that throws your immune system into full-scale war on your digestive tract once it senses gluten. These attacks can lead to serious damage to the villi (small, finger-like receptors in the small intestine). Once damaged, villi can no longer absorb nutrients into the body.

    Left untreated, it can also lead to additional health problems, such as Type I diabetes, multiple sclerosis and sometimes even intestinal cancers. The only treatment for celiac is a strict, gluten-free diet and the only way to provide a diagnosis is through blood testing.

    Summa Health Digestive Program focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and conditions that affect the intake and digestion of food and other nutrients. In addition, a number of comorbid chronic conditions, such as hepatitis C, depression and metabolic syndrome can adversely impact digestive health. Summa offers a comprehensive resource for diagnosing and managing all forms of digestive disorders. Most insurance companies are accepted. For more information, call 330.761.1111.


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