According to Shreve Stockton's book "Eating Gluten Free: Delicious Recipes and Essential Advice for Living Well," 90 million Americans exhibit an intolerance to gluten in some form, the majority of them undiagnosed. One in 133 people also suffers from celiac disease, which is a condition exacerbated by a diet containing gluten and inhibits the small intestine from absorbing essential nutrients. Triggered by stress, pregnancy, heredity or surgery, gluten intolerance can surface in anyone at any time.
The symptoms of gluten intolerance include depression, anxiety, fogginess or loss of concentration, irritability, migraines, muscle cramps, anemia, abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, gas, distended abdomen, chronic fatigue, mood swings, skin rashes and blistering and irregular heartbeat, notes Stockton. For people with celiac disease, symptoms can occur over time as the damage to the small intestine compounds from gluten intake. Long-term symptoms of gluten intolerance include missed menstrual cycles, mouth ulcers, nosebleeds, seizures, hair loss, stunted growth, numbness in the extremities and susceptibility to bruising, as put forth by PubMed Health.
Duration of Symptoms
Because the various symptoms of gluten intolerance depend on the individual, the precise duration of such symptoms after eating is difficult to pinpoint. Some people have an immediate and violent reaction, such as anaphylactic shock. If their small intestines are capable of absorbing sufficient nutrients, some people may not exhibit any symptoms for weeks, or even months. According to Sylvia Llewelyn Bower's book "What Nurses Know...Gluten-Free Lifestyle," people who experience abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea or constipation after eating gluten will take one to three days to recover from these symptoms.
What’s Happening Inside the Body
For people with celiac disease, gluten inflames the small intestine and destroys villi, or small hair-like strands in the intestinal wall. The villi are unable to regenerate, causing malnutrition over an extended period, notes Stockton. Their bodies may also produce immunoglobin E, the antibody that signals a food allergy. If you have celiac disease and persist in eating gluten, your body may exhibit an elevated antibody count. Every time you ingest gluten, accidentally or not, your body suffers internal damage. If the gluten intake is infrequent, your body repairs the damage rapidly. Take a day's rest to allow your body to heal.
The only treatment for gluten intolerance or celiac disease is a gluten-free diet. By removing gluten from your diet, you cease putting your psychological and physical health at risk. Because most processed foods, ranging from hot sauce to packaged soup, contain gluten, a gluten-free diet may be challenging to maintain. A diet filled with fresh fruit, vegetable juices and appropriate supplements can help to address depleted vitamin and mineral deficiencies. People with gluten-intolerance heal at different rates. While some people recover quickly after following a gluten-free diet, others may take years to recover their strength and health.
Is This an Emergency?
- “What Nurses Know...Gluten-Free Lifestyle”; RN Sylvia Llewelyn Bower; 2011
- “Eating Gluten Free: Delicious Recipes and Essential Advice for Living Well…”; Shreve Stockton; 2005
- “Gluten-Free for a Healthy Life: Nutritional Advice and Recipes for Those...”; Kimberly A. Tessmer; 2003
- PubMed Health: Celiac Disease – Sprue
- “Gluten Intolerance”; Beatrice Trum Hunter; 1987