Gluten Intolerance 101: Things to Do, Things to Avoid, and Potential Treatment Solutions
It’s considered that about 7% of the US population is affected by gluten sensitivity. Although it represents a common problem, gluten intolerance has various stages – that said, not all the people with this problem experience the same symptoms and inconveniences.
The most common and the most severe form of gluten intolerance is celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disease that often leads to damage in the digestive system. A milder form of gluten intolerance is non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Even though it’s not as severe as the celiac disease, it may still cause problems.
The entire idea about gluten intolerance is not entirely understood yet, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t solve your problem. Apart from regulating your diet and adapting it to your condition, you can use a variety of natural and herbal therapies that can reduce the signs of intolerance. Acupuncture, as a complementary treatment, can also help to relieve the symptoms you might be feeling due to gluten sensitivity.
This article will provide a more detailed explanation of this condition, its symptoms, and the most efficient ways of dealing with it.
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What is Gluten Intolerance?
Gluten intolerance is characterized by adverse reactions to gluten – a protein that’s found in wheat, barley, and rye. People with gluten intolerance often feel abdominal pain right after they’ve eaten, as well as other symptoms associated with this problem.
The symptoms of gluten intolerance often resemble a wheat allergy, irritable bowel syndrome, or celiac disease. Still, gluten intolerance is usually followed by different long-term effects, which will be explained later.
Wheat is one of the most common food allergens in the United States, which results in an immune response to any proteins found in wheat, not only gluten. It’s most common in children, but most of them outgrow it by the age of 12.
Someone who’s allergic to wheat might not be allergic to other grains, such as barley or rye. Symptoms of wheat allergy often start within minutes after eating something that contains the wheat, and they include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Eye irritation
- Mouth and throat irritation
- Nasal congestion
- Nausea and vomiting.
Symptoms of a wheat allergy range from mild to life-threatening. You may notice severe difficulty breathing, also known as anaphylaxis, which often happens if you eat wheat accidentally. Your doctor may prescribe you an epinephrine auto-injector that will prevent anaphylaxis in case of the wheat consumption.
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Celiac disease is defined as an autoimmune disease in which your immune system responds badly to gluten. That said, if you have celiac disease, the consumption of gluten will cause your immune system to destroy the parts of your small intestine responsible for absorbing nutrients – villi.
You won’t be able to get proper nutrition without healthy villi, which may lead to malnutrition and other severe consequences bad for your overall health. Both children and adults can develop celiac disease, but they go through different symptoms. Children will probably experience the following signs:
- Abdominal bloating
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach pain.
The failure to absorb nutrients can lead to other health issues, especially during the years of growth and development. Such problems often include:
- Delayed puberty
- Dental enamel defects
- Failure to thrive
- Mood swings
- Short stature
- Weight loss.
As for the adults, their symptoms may be a bit distinct. Apart from digestive disorders, they may also go through some of the following signs:
- Anxiety and depression
- Infertility and miscarriages
- Joint pain
- Missed menstrual periods
- Tingling in the feet and hands
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
People who tested negative on wheat allergy or celiac disease and still have troubles when eating gluten often have something called non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Researchers are still trying to determine the biological cause of this problem since more and more people are complaining about the unpleasant feeling right after they’ve eaten gluten.
The most common symptoms of non-celiac gluten sensitivity include:
- Abdominal pain, bloating, and gas
- Brain fog, also described as mental fatigue
No lab test could prove that you have NCGS, which is why you’re advised to keep a food and symptom journal. That way, your doctor or practitioner can see whether gluten is the reason you’re not feeling well. If so, they will recommend you start a gluten-free diet.
Gluten Intolerance Symptoms Checklist
The most common signs of gluten intolerance include the following:
The most common symptom of gluten intolerance includes abdominal pain. It often begins right after you’ve finished eating. Even 83% of gluten intolerant people have experienced abdominal pain after gluten consumption.
If your belly is swollen or full of gas after you’ve eaten, it may be a sign that you’re gluten intolerant. Bloating doesn’t automatically imply gluten intolerance, but if you feel it after gluten consumption, your immune system may respond abnormally to it.
Diarrhea and Constipation
Occasional diarrhea and constipation aren’t a severe issue, but if they occur frequently, it may indicate the lack of gluten tolerance. Gluten intolerance leads to poor nutrient absorption, which later results in digestive discomforts such as diarrhea or constipation.
Headaches and Migraines
Severe headaches and migraines are more common in gluten-intolerant people than healthy individuals. If you notice frequent headaches that start with no apparent reason, it may be the sign of gluten sensitivity.
Tiredness and Fatigue
Tiredness and fatigue are common when you eat something that contains gluten. Namely, gluten intolerance often causes iron-deficiency anemia, which impacts the lack of energy and makes you feel tired most of the time.
Gluten intolerance affects your skin, as well. Dermatitis herpetiformis (a blistering skin condition) is the most common skin manifestation of celiac disease, but you may also face other skin problems. Fortunately, most skin issues can be solved with an adequate gluten-free diet and other treatments.
Anxiety and Depression
Digestive problems usually lead to an increased level of stress and anxiety. A gluten-free diet is convenient for such feelings since it helps people feel more cheerful, better, and relieved.
Sudden Weight Loss
An unexpected weight loss may be linked with gluten intolerance and the inability to absorb the necessary nutrients.
Brain fog is described as the lack of ability to think clearly. However, it also encompasses the conditions when a person is forgetful, has difficulty thinking, feels cloudy, and has mental fatigue.
What is the Best Treatment for Gluten Intolerance?
The biggest misconception about gluten intolerance is that it affects digestive functions only. Namely, it affects mental, emotional, neurological, and autoimmune problems, as well, which means that its treatment should be based on holistic methods and approaches that would address every part of the human organism affected by gluten intolerance or celiac disease.
Apart from a gluten-free diet, which is more than recommended and about which we’ll talk later, gluten intolerant individuals tend to look for other treatment options that would boost their immune system and help them deal with the problem much easier. One such treatment involves Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and its approaches that have been used for centuries.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, allergies to gluten, the protein in cow’s milk, lactose intolerance, and similar food allergies imply particular energy deficiency at the level of the spleen channel. According to the TCM, the spleen is the organ responsible for digestion, which is why its energy imbalance results in digestive problems, especially celiac disease.
Chinese herbalists and practitioners claim that the primary cause of energy deficiency in the spleen can be an inherited disposition, unhealthy diet, inadequate diet, stress, busy lifestyle, or even the repeated use of antibiotics and hormones. All these factors may have a negative impact on the yang energy of the spleen and worsen the usability of nutrients that come from the food. Namely, they may harm the relationship between the spleen and the stomach.
An accurate TCM diagnosis may help you solve digestive problems. Your practitioner may prescribe a combination of a diet and TCM herbal therapy to address the underlying condition that may be causing gluten intolerance.
Apart from a gluten-free diet, which will be explained in detail later, you’ll need to stick to prescribed TCM therapy that consists of:
- Strengthening the spleen
- Drying dampness
- Cooling or warming the body.
Herbal Therapy as a Treatment for Gluten Intolerance: Strengthening the Spleen
Your Chinese herbalist will create a unique therapy plan for strengthening the spleen based on your overall health and severity of your condition. The recommended mixture might consist of the herbs aimed at strengthening kidneys, spleen, and lungs and clearing harmful substances from the body, such as heat toxins, dampness, and phlegm.
A particular herbal therapy also aims at “awakening” the spleen and treating hundreds of diseases by regulating qi energy, vital for establishing the balance, and encouraging an individual’s well-being.
Herbal Therapy as a Treatment for Gluten Intolerance: Drying Dampness
The drying dampness process consists of two main sub-processes: urination support and draining liquids from body tissues.
Urination support is vital for achieving the overall balance, which is why the TCM tends to encourage it by using herbal therapies that won’t harm the kidneys. That said, you may be advised to take red adzuki beans, corn, millet, garlic, and soybeans.
Draining liquids from body tissues involves the use of aromatic foods that absorb water and stop diarrhea, which is common in gluten-intolerant people. Your practitioner will recommend specific foods that absorb the water from body tissues and excrete it in urine efficiently.
Herbal Therapy as a Treatment for Gluten Intolerance: Cooling or Warming of the Body
Depending on whether your constitution is heat or cold, your practitioner will decide whether you need cooling or warming of the body.
The process of cooling the body involves the use of foods such as mungo beans and courgette. These aliments are believed to be excellent antioxidants and blood-cleansers that help treat skin inflammation, eczema, and internal inflammation.
Another process includes the warming of the body. The practitioner will use the foods with a strong and sweet taste, such as fresh ginger and ground cinnamon since they have warm energy and spicy-sweet taste. These foods will warm the body and impact the energy flow, making sure the water starts draining from the body, either in the form of urine or sweat.
Acupuncture Treatment of Gluten Intolerance
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, balanced digestion is key to good overall health. Besides, we need perfectly balanced nutrition, qi, energy, and other spheres of our organism to boost our immune system and general well-being.
Your digestive system and its components are responsible for the nourishment of all the systems of your body. Therefore, acupuncture treatments can be beneficial since they focus on nourishing and restoring the energy balance of your digestive system, making sure it enhances the body’s overall health and function.
Although every person is individual in terms of health, most of them feel an increased dose of energy, improved digestion, and enhanced overall health. The best results are observed when acupuncture is combined with a proper gluten-free diet and herbal therapy that brings a significant amount of enzymes necessary for the majority of biochemical processes in the human body.
Acupuncture is an entirely safe process that has a therapeutic effect and relieves the symptoms of pain and inconveniences with the digestive tract. It involves the use of small and fine acupuncture needles, which a practitioner places in specific acupoints found all over the body. The exact number of sessions will be determined based on your overall health and condition, and your practitioner will recommend an adequate herbal therapy you’ll combine with acupuncture treatments to get the best results.
Read more about the benefits of acupuncture and its most popular styles.
Gluten Intolerance: FAQ
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions regarding gluten allergy:
What are the First Signs of Gluten Intolerance?
The first gluten intolerance symptoms often appear right after you’ve eaten something with gluten, and they manifest in bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, and nausea. You may feel other symptoms such as fatigue and headache, as well.
You shouldn’t worry if you have digestive problems occasionally, but if you experience them almost every day, it may indicate the presence of an underlying disease.
What Does a Gluten Attack Feel Like?
Right after the gluten intake, you may start to feel some of the symptoms mentioned above. They may last for some time, even for a couple of days, depending on your stage and the amount of gluten you’ve eaten. In case of a severe allergic reaction, you may experience anaphylaxis, which requires immediate emergency care.
What Gluten Intolerance Foods to Avoid?
If you have a gluten intolerance, you should generally avoid foods with wheat, rye, or barley. These ingredients are often found in pasta, bread, crackers, seasonings, and spice mixes. However, you should always read product labels to see whether they contain gluten since it’s more and more present in processed food.