How Do I Know If I’m Gluten Intolerant?

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THERE ARE TWO WAYS TO TELL if you are gluten intolerant: an elimination/reintegration diet and blood tests. But first, let’s talk about what gluten is and why it’s a problem for so many people.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut, and oats. It is hidden in pizza, pasta, bread, wraps, rolls, and most processed foods. Clearly, gluten is a staple of the American diet.

Unfortunately, it’s also linked to many diseases and conditions; a review paper in The New England Journal of Medicine listed 55 “diseases” that can be caused by eating gluten. These include osteoporosis, irritable bowel disease, inflammatory bowel disease, anemia, cancer, fatigue, canker sores, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and almost all other autoimmune diseases.

Gluten is also linked to many psychiatric and neurological diseases, including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, dementia, migraines, epilepsy, and neuropathy (nerve damage). It has also been linked to autism.

Gluten sensitivity is actually an autoimmune disease that creates inflammation throughout the body, with wide-ranging effects across all organ systems including your brain, heart, joints, digestive tract, and more. It can be the single cause behind many different “diseases.” To correct these diseases, you need to treat the cause – which is often gluten sensitivity – not just the symptoms.

To find out if you are one of the millions of people suffering from an unidentified gluten sensitivity, just follow this simple procedure.

The Elimination/Reintegration Diet

While testing can help identify gluten sensitivity, the only way you will know if this is really a problem for you is to eliminate all gluten for a short period of time (2 to 4 weeks) and see how you feel. Eliminate the following foods:

  • Gluten (barley, rye, oats, spelt, kamut, wheat, and triticale – see www.celiac.com for a complete list of foods that contain gluten, as well as often surprising and hidden sources of gluten.)
  • Hidden sources (soup mixes, salad dressings, sauces, as well as lipstick, certain vitamins, medications, stamps and envelopes you have to lick, and even Play-Doh.)

For this test to work you MUST eliminate 100 percent of the gluten from your diet – no exceptions, no hidden gluten, and not a single crumb of bread. Then eat it again and see what happens. If you feel bad at all, you need to stay off gluten permanently. This will teach you better than any test about the impact gluten has on your body.

There are also gluten allergy/celiac disease tests that are available through Labcorp or Quest Diagnostics. All these tests help identify various forms of allergy or sensitivity to gluten or wheat.

This is only part of the story. Read the full article here: Gluten: What You Don’t Know Might Kill You.

Please leave your thoughts by adding a comment below – but remember, we can’t offer personal medical advice online, so be sure to limit your comments to those about taking back our health!

To your good health,

Mark Hyman, MD

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20 Responses to How Do I Know If I’m Gluten Intolerant?

  1. Raptor May 26, 2012 at 8:44 am #

    When I see Dow Chemical showing ads on TV saying they they are ‘helping make delicious breads that are gluten free’ it just tells me that American Agribusiness has now taken over this new health fad and will poison us in a new and possibly even more dangerous way. I’ve read the list of foods that are ‘bad’ because they contain gluten. It is long and contains foods that humans have eaten for centuries. Anyone who tells me to give up my steel-cut oats for breakfast every day has a tough sell. I’ve lost 30 pounds and feel great on a plant-based, whole foods diet, which I’m sure contains gluten as nature intended it.

    • Bel gazou May 28, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

      oats do not inherently contain gluten…this is something that is fallaciously stated over and over…
      it is that oats are usually processed in an area where wheat and other gluten containing grains are also
      processed and can become cross contaminated …so you can eat oats but have to look for oats that
      say gluten free because they are processed in their own space…steel cut oatmeal may be processed
      separately anyway…you should contact the company to see if that is so…

  2. Chloechloe May 26, 2012 at 9:03 am #

    Raptor – I think there may be a misunderstanding. I don’t think gluten containing foods are bad unless one has a sensitivity to them. I wouldn’t go on a gluten free diet unless gluten made me sick, which it does in my case. If you feel great and have none of the the symptoms of gluten intolerance, then I say keep eating your steel cut oats! If anyone says all people should not eat gluten containing grains, then that is silly. Some people shouldn’t eat gluten containing grains and if they had the problems I did this information will change their life for the better.

  3. Caroleah May 27, 2012 at 3:22 pm #

    Gluten isn’t inherently bad for everyone, but for people with compromised gut health (and that includes most people eating the Standard American Diet) it is problematic more often than not. If you are eating gluten and feeling great you probably don’t have a gluten intolerance. But if you have any of the health issues Dr. Hyman mentioned you certainly should try a gluten-free challenge. Often, people are so used to feeling bad they never connect what they are eating to their symptoms. Yes, people have eaten gluten for many generations, but they haven’t eaten the vast amount of junk food most people now consume. And don’t be fooled into thinking gluten-free junk food is OK. Junk is still junk.

    • RS August 8, 2014 at 11:31 pm #

      I’m glad the word’s getting out, that gluten intolerance can be the cause of many maladies. I recently saw some studies also showing a relationship between celiac disease and ADHD. We want to test my child, who has ADD symptoms, for these antibodies. Problematic, though, that doctors don’t want to order the testing. I feel like it’s important to do blood tests before starting the diet (they’ll be messed up if you try to test your blood after you’re already off gluten). We need to know if he has the worst case of gluten intolerance, celiac, so he will know he needs to avoid gluten for a lifetime. If you don’t know you truly are doing damage to your body with gluten, you can easily cheat on the diet since it takes a lot of motivation. If it’s only a matter of clearing up some symptoms that you think you can live with, that’s totally different than if you’re going to cause yourself an early death.

  4. Pat Young May 28, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

    Dr. Wyman – I am one happy female camper. Thanks to you, your books, your programs and my perseverance to remain healthy and vertical at 83 years of age, I am losing weight (about 1+ lbs. per week) and feeling better than I have in years. First step was to cut out all dairy, then to go non-gluten. Plenty of good, filtered water, a fist full of supplements to cover all the bases, nuts and seed for snacking and a whole new way of preparing meals. I know now that a successful diet is finding the real “rainbow” veggies that you love, chopping them roughly, tossing with very good quality extra virgin olive oil and a top grade (interesting flavor) vinegar, a fist full of chopped parsley – Spread out on a cookie sheet and roast at 375 for 35 minutes. WOW! A bowl of this with non-gluten crackers, dipped in guacamole and you’re good to go. I eat this every day with a few hearty spoons of black, white or red beans. (Protein with every meal!)

    I’ve settled into knowing exactly what I will be eating every morning for breakfast. At lunchtime, a salad of greens, tomato, olives, beans, onions, broccoli tops, celery, cukes – topped with cold Wild Salmon or cold sliced chicken and drizzle that great olive oil on with the flavored vinegar – WOW! Again – a winner. A tall glass of ice cold filtered water is a must with every meal.

    Can you tell I’m excited about this? It all started with my Dr. here in Boothbay telling me my blood sugar was slightly elevated. A mystery as I’m eating a proper diet. We found the answer – no exercise. Now that weather is great again, I’m back on the golf course every week. Also do some “moving my bod” exercises while I watch the morning news.

    Thanks, Dr. Hyman – Pat Young

  5. Yosefine Deans June 29, 2012 at 4:04 am #

    I think we need to look also at the way in which most gluten containing grains came about. Intense farming of one strain of wheat is not a good thing, with loss of biodiversity on the earth and on your plate. How we treat the earth is invariably how we are treated. Considering the way we farm wheat it is no wonder we have become intolerant. I also think the ground up version of the grain is a problem. It acts like glue in kidneys and joints and mixed with the bad fats probably in your arteries too. Eating whole wheat might not be as bad; you probably eat less that way.

  6. robin gibson October 22, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

    HI I am concerd about my maybe being gluten intolerant. I have toureetes syndrome and latly its been pretty bad. when i eat eggs sometimes i get diareha and when i have whole wheat bread with peanut butter that can ruin a whole day. where can i ge treated to see if i am gluen intolerant. my grandmother and her sisters were and im getting curious.

  7. Wondering about this? December 16, 2012 at 8:44 am #

    I have enteritis and work with a nutritionist regarding this problem. It seems to me it is much like celiac. I was asked to try crackers which are made with rice flour and I noticed that it was much easier for me to digest these crackers then others. I then tried gluten-free bread which again made my life a little easier. Now I just bought a book on how to cook gluten-free foods. I am trying this only because I’ve noticed this small change in my digestion. I am thinking that anything that can help relieve digestion problems for me is something I should pursue.

  8. Elyse Walters December 16, 2012 at 10:23 am #

    As a baby I had a serious problem —(constipation) — I’m 60 years old now. By the time I was 3 years old –I remember being put in a bath tub naked on my back to be given enema’s. A Nurse came to our house to give them to me on and off for years. My dad died when I was 4 —and my 9 year old sister was left in charge when the nurse came to the house. I often tried to run away –or hide under a bed to avoid those experiences. —-but I had a problem which still continues to this day. (nobody has ever considered asking me about my diet –tried to get to the cause of my problem).
    I once went to 6-day-survival-type-mountain course-(very physical) camp in Tahoe when I was in my 20′s —we were served an organic low fat veggie diet. I did not ‘poop’ those entire 6 days. I drank at ‘least’ 8 glasses of water a day —but I could not go.
    It wasn’t until I ate some junk food (chocolate brownies I think it was) –after leaving camp when I finally was able to ”go”.

    I was tested for Celiac about 10 years ago —the doctor said –’nope’…. I’m fine. I’ve told him my problems —(i’m thin to normal weight) — but I have ‘extreme’ problems —- I’m sick of it. I have a hunch it ‘is’ gluten — ‘and’ other problems — I fight and on and off again battle with sugar — (also with te moods of depression when the yucky eating returns — (I’ve read Mark’s book –its made a bigger dfference to me than ‘all’ others) —I did GREAT for about two months –(not perfect –but much better) —- then something happened (who know what) — Chanuakah blues? Xmas hype? my close friend having Cancer? or just being angry at myself for lost of control with my quality eating? I watched myself dive right into those ‘expensive’ -no-trans-fat- whole-foods chocolate chip cookies like a shark. —a dozen a day — (breakfast-lunch and dinner) —my mind became a complete rebel — I lost my taste for whole-clean food —I lost my desire to participate with the things I ‘really’ love — I felt like CRAP. —
    Today is a little better: I’m on vacation for the next 10 days in peaceful Calistoga with my husband. — (I’m trying again— I ate NO gluten yesterday —didn’t eat ‘snacks’ before falling asleep — (I still needed to give myself an enema this morning –as I do every day to be honest) —-but things went easier –ad my mind feels more clear –and I slept almost 8 hours — I’m happy and sad…. its exhausting being on my own roller coaster of clean eating —then falling again –to angry or frustrated eating —-(its also exhausting ‘period’) —clean or junkie eating —I seem to have poop problems — (but its ‘better’ with clean eating). I continue to read Mark’s e-mails which come —because he has been a personal inspiration –I don’t really want to give up.

    • Grace December 18, 2012 at 1:45 am #

      Elyse, it might also be that you need more vitamin C & magnesium (though it could be any one or a combination of a dozen or more possibilities). My oldest son has had a chronic infection for most – possibly all – of his life. Whenever he starts having trouble having a bowel movement, we’ve figured out that it’s because his immune system is fighting something & is using up his vit C faster than it is being replaced. I’ll give him extra C at those times & things will return to normal – and we’ll usually see symptoms of a cold or virus over the next day or so. I’ve known several people who have been able to regularize their bowel problems with supplementation of C and magnesium. We have also added glucomannan (konjac root) for that purpose. Anyway, look into supplementation if you haven’t already!

      P.S. I also struggle with the cycle you describe & I have found it helpful to look for recipes of healthier versions of my “cheats”. For some reason, it’s easier for me to get back on track when I do that. Unfortunately, when we travel & I eat out at restaurants, that’s when I tend to fall back into the whole vicious cycle again. :-P

  9. Lina December 16, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

    Check out my website for gluten free recipies.
    http://mytasteofhealth.blogspot.com

    Lina

  10. LeePee0101 December 16, 2012 at 6:10 pm #

    I was just diagnosed with Celiac disease and Hashimoto’s disease. Within days of starting the thyroid medication and cutting out all gluten, I have lost 8 lbs of bloat, am sleeping through the night for the first time in over two years, and am not having any of the body aches/headaches/fatigue that I have been suffering with.

    Even if your thyroid levels are within the normal range, I encourage you to continue to advocate for yourself with your doctor. It took me two years, three doctors and a lot of misery before I got a doctor to believe me. She sent me to the endocrinologist who immediately noticed my enlarged thyroid, sent me for a sonogram and more blood work. Within ten days he had the results back to me and told me the good news it wasn’t Lupus as we had feared. But, as it is, it’s a huge lifestyle change. I am okay with that since I am feeling better than I have since I started menopause!

  11. HCG April 29, 2013 at 12:19 pm #

    I enjoyed reading this. My thanks for taking the time. I’ll check again to see what’s new and inform my neighbors about this site.

  12. Avatar of april
    april October 5, 2013 at 11:17 am #

    ever since I had my gallbladder out-15 years ago- I have trouble eating breads and pasta. not all the time. I can have flat bread with no problem. my doctor said to eat gluten free with out doing any tests, because of stomach cramps, diarrhea, and like fat or grease in the stools. is this because i had my gallbladder out? my sister had hers out about 5 years ago and is dealing with the same issues. also when i eat ice cream or milk products i get the same stomach problems plus a lot of phlegm. i had an allergy test done and the doctor said i was not allergic too milk-just all trees, grass and plants. not sure what to eat now.

    • Avatar of Team Hyman
      Team Hyman June 17, 2014 at 5:58 pm #

      Hi April,

      I cannot for certain say that having your gallbladder out is causing your problems. However, as you probably know from your testing, food allergies and sensitivities and their symptoms can vary from person to person. If eating certain foods is repeatedly causing you to feel sick or experience negative symptoms you may consider avoiding them. I know this lifestyle change can prove a daunting task, but there are many resources such as recipes on this site and the 10 Day Detox, Blood Sugar Solution, etc. that can help you get on track. Good luck on your journey to health!

  13. Carol October 9, 2013 at 4:16 pm #

    I am not diabetic, but have been recently diagnosed with polyneuropathy. I’m learning that many people who otherwise seem very healthy also have neuropathy. Perhaps it’s linked to my many years of hypothyroidism. I am at the beginning of Dr. Hyman’s six-week program. I am hopeful that it will help lessen symptoms of hypersensitivity in my hands and tightness in my feet from the neuropathy. Has anyone else with neuropathy experienced positive results? A question to Dr. Hyman, please-is there any literature showing improvement or reversal of polyneuropathy after the study group participants consumed a particular diet or certain supplements, etc.?

  14. Lisa G December 13, 2013 at 2:00 pm #

    I found out I had a wheat intolerance a couple years ago and just got a divorce and pretty much forgot that I wasn’t supposed to eat wheat (pretty dumb), my sinuses started bothering me and for 5 months had a sinus infection I couldn’t get rid of, then I remembered about the wheat intolerance and am now eliminating it from my diet. Cross your fingers, hope it works. Maybe I can start thinking clearer again..

  15. Sheryl December 15, 2013 at 3:48 pm #

    My husband has Sjögren’s syndrome
    An auto immune disease and last week became so incredibly ill we stopped all food and drink except fruit veggies and meat
    He has been on this for 9 days now. We think he may have wheat and grain intolerance but not sure
    After 9 days of going to hell and back he is still going through detox symptoms but his eyes are clearer than the last 20 yrs and sight is better, he is sweating for the
    First time. He has fluid in his mouth and eyes, his skin is shining. He has had chronic back pain and sciatica for 3 yrs and is on waiting list for MRI / surgery- after 24 hours on the diet
    /detox, he has absolutely no pain as it seems the intolerance was causing bloated bowell and pushing on nerve to back and sciatic nerve
    I want everyone to readthisand try a diet change and detox because this seems like a miracle-he looks and feels better than
    20 yrs ago! But be warned, the detox is very dramatic including head pain, sweats, tremors, cramps, fever, lethargy,nightmares, thoughts of dying, gas, diarrhoea
    Swollen tongue, etc.
    Read all you an about detox and tongues- really! It is all quite incredible, my husband has no Sjögren’s syndrome signs any more- I believe we have kicked that onein the butt! ,

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