Gluten can be tricky—some people are totally fine eating it and others get major GI discomfort, like inflammation, diarrhea, stomach pain, and more. And gluten is in a ton of foods, from salad dressings and soy sauce to, of course, wheat and barley.
If you have Celiac disease or an allergy to gluten, you’ll need to cut it out. However, that’s not the only reason to do so, as you might have an intolerance, where your body doesn’t break it down and process it as it should, leaving you with such uncomfortable symptoms.
Not sure if gluten is your enemy? Here are a few sneaky, subtle signs that you might benefit from trying a gluten elimination diet.
1. You Have an Autoimmune Disorder
If you have an autoimmune disorder, like hypothyroidism, for instance, you might want to try cutting out gluten to see if your symptoms get better. It’s important to note gluten issues are a primary source of inflammation and associated with a lot of autoimmune disorders, says Randall Evans, MS, RDN, LD.
“This happens because a large portion of our immune system (and neurotransmitters) sit on the GI brush border as a protective mechanism to keep bad things from entering our blood,” he says. When the GI becomes "leaky" the immune system becomes very reactive, leading to a slew of GI symptoms, like gas, pain, diarrhea, and more. “This is why over time mild symptoms tend to get worse as more and more damage is done to the GI tract,” he says.
2. You Have GI Pain
Does your belly blow up after eating a whole wheat sandwich? It could be from the gluten. “GI symptoms like chronic gas, pain, bloating, reflux, constipation, diarrhea might be experienced,” says Evans. Take out the gluten and try gluten-free pseudograins, like quinoa, or go for a lettuce wrap for the sandwich. If you feel better, you’ll know the cause.
3. You Get Migraines
You could have several triggers for migraines and gluten might be one of them. There is some research showing a link between the two, so if you get migraines after eating gluten, take note. And if other triggers, like flashing lights or strong scents, aren’t involved, you know you might have other triggers you haven’t realized of yet.
4. You Have Joint Pain
Gluten is also inflammatory on its own, and so if you do have an intolerance, you’ll feel it even more so. If you have joint pain, it could be related to a gluten issue, says Evans. Stretch, massage, and take Epsom baths with magnesium to relieve joint pain. Yet if it persists, cut out gluten and see if it helps!
5. Low Energy and Cognitive Thinking
If you can’t eat gluten, due to sensitivity, you might get that brain fog too often and feel physically weak and fatigued, says Evans. If you wake up energized, but after having gluten for breakfast start to feel tired, even if that breakfast was packed with good nutrients (I am not saying you eat a donut for breakfast and then feel tired after, as that’s from the sugar!), then try getting rid of gluten for a few days and see if physical and mental energy comes back.
6. Cold-like Symptoms
You might notice symptoms of a runny nose or constant throat clearing, says Evans, which can be related to gluten issues. If you don’t have a cold, and you can go to the doctor and rule that out, give it a few days for the cold-like symptoms to go away. If they are chronic, and you’re still not fighting off a virus of some sort, then it could definitely be connected to gluten.
7. Bad Skin and Rashes
Breaking out and getting rash-like, dry skin but unsure why? Well, make sure you’re moisturizing first and washing off ASAP post-workout, but if that’s not the case, it could be from what’s on your plate. Research shows gluten issues could be linked to rashes and acne, so if you haven’t changed skincare products or your regimen and skin issues are flaring up, try eliminating gluten to see if your skin clears up and the rashes go away.
Isadora Baum is a freelance writer, certified health coach, and author of 5-Minute Energy. She can't resist a good sample, a margarita, a new HIIT class, or an easy laugh. She writes for various magazines, such as Men's Health, Women's Health, SELF, LIVESTRONG, POPSUGAR, Allure, Health, Cooking Light, and more. Learn more about her on her website: isadorabaum.com.