Did you know foods as seemingly innocent as a slice of bread or a bit of barbecue sauce could cause you to suffer from gluten intolerance bloating? Gluten hides in more foods than you realize, and even if you aren’t diagnosed with celiac disease you could still manifest this uncomfortable and frustrating condition. Learn how gluten intolerance bloating happens and what you can do about it.
Bloating is one symptom in a long list of symptoms associated with various forms of gluten sensitivity. However one does not need to be diagnosed with celiac disease symptoms to suffer from this uncomfortable phenomenon.
Table of Contents:
- What Is Bloating and What Causes It?
- What Causes Gluten Intolerance Bloating?
- What is Celiac Disease?
- Common Gluten Intolerance Symptoms
- Does Gluten Cause Bloating For Everyone?
- How to Treat Bloating From Gluten Intolerance
What Is Bloating and What Causes It?
Bloating is simply swelling of the abdomen. This can occur in the upper abdomen or the lower abdomen (or both), but for the most part this post addresses intestinal bloating. It is sometimes accompanied by gas, flatulence, cramping and stomach growling (borborygmus). You know you’re experiencing bloating when you experience the sensation of feeling overly full and your belly either feels or appears distended.
Bloating is fundamentally about your body not properly digesting your food. As simple as that sounds, however, bloating causes can vary wildly. Sometimes bloating occurs because of the food itself, sometimes it may occur because of an existing health condition, and sometimes it occurs because of the way you eat your food (whether you eat your food too fast, with too much water, too little water or with too much breathing between bites). Here are the most common causes of bloating:
- Aerophagia (swallowing air)
- Celiac Disease
- Dysmenorrhea (menstrual pain)
- Eating Too Fast
- Food Allergies
- Gluten Sensitivity
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Lactose Intolerance
- Wheat Allergy
Some people may see gluten sensitivity, celiac disease and wheat allergy and think, “Isn’t she being redundant?” No, these are three separate conditions. A wheat allergy is Type 1 Sensitivity and a histamine response, not an autoimmune disease like gluten intolerance and celiac disease. And recent research suggests that a non-celiac gluten sensitivity features some significant differences from celiac disease, making it more than just a less severe form of intolerance (and that “less severe” part is sometimes debated as well). In any case, all three can cause chronic bloating and abdominal distention.
Even though bloating and gluten intolerance go hand-in-hand, don’t simply assume this is the cause of your bloating; examine the above list of common bloating causes and see if you can find simpler bloating relief. There are also additional causes, such as Crohn’s Disease and ovarian cancer, however those are less common and beyond the scope of this article. Please talk to your doctor if you experience severe and chronic bloating.
What Causes Gluten Intolerance Bloating?
In people who suffer from some degree of gluten intolerance, gluten triggers an autoimmune response, resulting in damage to the lining of the small intestine. As lining of the small intestine becomes more and more damaged, a phenomenon known as villous atrophy occurs. As villous atrophy begins, your intestines don’t digest your food as well. This results in a series of uncomfortable symptoms, including both gas and bloating. If gluten intolerance is left untreated, villous atrophy grows more and more severe.
In addition to pain and gas related directly to the swollen, damaged intestinal wall (think of it as being a little like a sunburn), when this intestinal villi (little finger-like hairs along the intestinal wall) can’t absorb nutrients from your food and help process food as it passes, it causes a chain reaction along the bowel as your intestines further down expect the food to be better digested when it reaches that part.
However, more and more researchers are beginning to suggest that a large percentage of the non-Celiac population may also not digest gluten as well as we once thought. Whether it’s because we inherently shouldn’t be eating this much gluten or whether it has something to do with the way the agriculture industry has modified production sources for maximum production and quality is still being debated.
But it appears likely that almost everyone would benefit from less reliance on gluten-containing foods to fulfill their hunger and nutritional requirements, not just those suffering from gluten intolerance and bloating. Learn more about this complex protein composite in my post: What Is Gluten?
If you’re looking to distinguish gluten intolerance bloating from other forms of bloating, I’m afraid it isn’t very simple. Beyond being chronic and not sporadic, you’ll need to look at other gluten intolerance symptoms to see if your bloating is accompanied by these other symptoms.
What is Celiac Disease?
Formerly a disease that could make individuals suffer for years before being properly diagnosed, Celiac Disease is beginning to be better understood by the patients suffering from the disease, as well as the doctors who diagnose it. Celiac disease implies sensitivity or intolerance to gluten, a protein composite that is found in wheat, barley, and rye as well as in lesser known grains such as spelt and kamut. It is often cross-contaminated to oats as well.
Celiac disease, which is also referred to as celiac sprue disease and sometimes spelled coeliac disease, is not a simple topic. I encourage you to read my series of articles addressing this difficult topic:
- Celiac Disease Symptoms
- Silent Celiac Disease Symptoms
- Celiac Disease Symptoms In Children
- Celiac Disease Symptoms In Adults
- Celiac Disease Checklist
Common Gluten Intolerance Symptoms
For some individuals, symptoms may include bloating, gas, and irregularity with alternating bouts of constipation and diarrhea, joint pain, headaches and mouth sores. These symptoms are mild in comparison to some, which can include severe migraines, anemia, diabetes, arthritis and, if left unaddressed, various forms of cancer. Thankfully however, most individuals with gluten intolerance can avoid all of the above-listed symptoms by avoiding the consumption of foods that contain gluten.
Please note this is very short and simple list of gluten intolerance symptoms. See my article specific to this topic for more comprehensive coverage of these symptoms: Gluten Intolerance.
Does Gluten Cause Bloating For Everyone?
The answer to this question is an obvious yes for anyone suffering from some type of gluten intolerance, whether it is celiac disease, a wheat allergy or a non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
So what if you don’t suffer from gluten intolerance… does gluten cause bloating?
The answer is partially a “yes” and partially an “it depends.”
Gliadin, an alcohol-soluble protein in gluten, features a long and complex peptide chain, far longer and more complex than most other common protein sources.
This makes gluten a very complicated substance for anyone to digest, not just people who are gluten intolerant.
While most current medical evidence suggests people who are not gluten intolerant can digest gluten fine, I think at least some researchers are beginning to agree that we consume a little too much gluten in the Standard American Diet (SAD). And there are factions within the health community that disagree with the conventional wisdom on this matter.
In short, even if you aren’t gluten intolerant, it could be causing your bloating, but everyone is different.
I recommend at least reducing your daily intake of gluten, and at least watching for breads and products using ingredients like vital wheat gluten or wheat gluten in addition to other gluten-containing ingredients to see if this helps.
Keep in mind some other food, combination of foods or eating habit may be causing the bloating. Eating too fast or not chewing your food well enough may be the source of your problem. Try not to eat too quickly or nervously, and chew well before swallowing your food.
If you suffer from bloating regularly try keeping a food journal listing the foods you eat each day and the symptoms (if any) you experience. This way you can look for patterns and better determine what may be causing this uncomfortable symptom.
How to Treat Bloating From Gluten Intolerance
If you have been diagnosed with any form of gluten sensitivity you must adhere to a strict gluten-free diet. Depending on how damaged the villi have become, you may also need to avoid dairy for a while. As you enjoy healthy gluten-free foods, your intestines will slowly heal. As they heal, you will experience less and less bloating.
If you want to relieve your bloating a little more quickly, you could try probiotics and digestive enzymes. Sipping fennel tea helps some people. However, no matter what anyone tries to sell you, there is no replacement for a gluten-free diet when it comes to treating gluten intolerance.
This is not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination, considering that the majority of processed foods contain gluten or some derivative of it. The good news is by learning about the options available and creating your own well stocked gluten free pantry will help you cook and bake gluten-free versions of your favorite foods. Due to increased awareness of the disease, maintaining a balanced diet is being facilitated by the production of a number of gluten-free food products.
If this is all intimidating you, I encourage you to consider this great resource: Gluten Free Survival Kit.
From a greater respect for the importance of diet on our overall well-being to improved awareness of where our food originates, people are increasingly conscious of their eating habits and our food supply chain. From choosing to eat organic to becoming more aware of the nutritional values of common foods, individuals are showing an increased interest in what they are consuming on a day to day basis.
This phenomenon is excellent news for individuals suffering from celiac disease and other similar kinds of food intolerance, because it means that they have better chances of living their lives free of discomfort and illness.
Before you embark upon a gluten-free diet or assume that you are experiencing some degree of gluten sensitivity, be sure to consult your doctor. Your symptoms may be indicative of some other condition that needs to be treated in a different way. Explain your symptoms and let the experts do the diagnosing.
If you do end up being diagnosed with Celiac disease, you can take comfort in knowing that you are not alone. With heightened awareness you can still live a normal life that includes eating and enjoying a variety of gluten-free foods, all experienced more comfortably with gluten intolerance bloating in your past.