Before diving into this post, I encourage you to read part 1 where I cover the topic of Understanding Gluten Intolerance and Symptoms That Come With It. This will help give you a baseline and understanding of gluten intolerance, which then can prepare you for the next step in further education - the causes!

Causes of Gluten Intolerance

There are multiple factors that can make people more likely to experience gluten intolerance symptoms: their overall diet and nutrient density, damage to the gut flora, immune status, genetic factors, and hormonal balance can all play a part.

The exact way that gluten causes varied symptoms in many people has to do with its effects on the digestive tract and gut first and foremost. Gluten is considered an “antinutrient” and is therefore hard to digest for nearly all people, whether they have a gluten intolerance or not.

Antinutrients are certain substances naturally present in plant foods, including grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Plants contain antinutrients as a built-in defense mechanism; they have a biological imperative to survive and reproduce just like humans and animals do. Because plants can’t defend themselves from predators by escaping, they evolved to protect their species by carrying antinutrient “toxins” (which in some cases can actually be beneficial to humans when they have the ability to fight off infections, bacteria or pathogens in the body).

Gluten is one type of anti-nutrient found in grains that has the following effects when eaten by humans: 

  • It may interfere with normal digestion and can cause bloating, gas, constipation and diarrhea due to its effect on bacteria living in the gut.
  • It can produce damage to the lining of the gut, causing “leaky gut syndrome” and autoimmune reactions in some cases.
  • It binds to certain amino acids (proteins), essential vitamins and minerals, making them unabsorbable.

Leaky gut syndrome is tied to gluten intolerance, which is a disorder that develops when tiny openings form in the gut lining and then large proteins and gut microbes leak across the gut barrier. Molecules that are usually kept within the gut are then able to enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body, where they can provoke a chronic, low-grade inflammatory response.

Interesting Facts

Some estimates suggest that six to 10 times more people have a form of gluten intolerance than have celiac disease. That means 1 in 10 adults might have some form of NCGS or gluten intolerance. However, that being said, at this time it’s difficult for researchers to estimate the exact prevalence of gluten intolerances and NCGS because there still isn’t a definitive diagnostic test that’s used or consensus over which symptoms must be present. 

It’s also hard to diagnose NCGS accurately because many of the symptoms caused by gluten are broad and very similar to symptoms caused by other disorders (like fatigue, body pains and mood changes). As I mentioned earlier, there especially seems to be a big overlap between irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms and gluten intolerance. 

Many people with IBS feel better when they follow a gluten-free diet. In people with IBS, gluten might cause symptoms to worsen, but it’s also a possibility that other attributes of wheat besides gluten (like amylase-trypsin inhibitors and low-fermentable, poorly absorbed, short-chain carbohydrates) can lead to poor digestion. 

Final Thoughts

Although once thought to be little more than myth, science has revealed that gluten intolerance does exist in individuals who do not also have celiac disease.

A person may have this intolerance, medically referred to as non celiac gluten sensitivity, if they do not test positive for celiac disease but still experience gluten intolerance symptoms and notice an improvement when eliminating gluten from their diet.

For some, gluten is the culprit behind symptoms. There is also some evidence that wheat, not just gluten, causes these symptoms in certain individuals. 

A natural treatment plan to treat gluten intolerance symptoms includes doing the following:

  1. Try an elimination diet
  2. Follow a gluten-free diet
  3. Consider having tests done

As you can see, there is a lot to cover when it comes to this topic! Another upcoming post I'll be sharing more in depth natural treatment options for gluten intolerance, please let me know your questions!

xoxo, Dr. G