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Wheat Intolerance and Joint Pain

By Janet Renee, MS, RD

Having a food intolerance means you must make changes to your diet to avoid the offending food. In many cases, symptoms are straightforward. In other instances, you may experience symptoms that seem unrelated to your food intolerance but may actually have a connection. There is a spectrum of disorders characterized by a sensitivity to proteins found in wheat and other cereal grains. One of the symptoms of any of these disorders can be joint pain.

Gliadin and Joint Pain

Wheat contains various proteins that can cause sensitivity, including albumin, globulin and gliadin. In December 2011, the journal BMJ Case Reports published a report of a rare case of a 22-year-old woman with joint pain, headache and menstrual disturbance. A skin prick test showed sensitivity to a-gliadin -- one of three types of gliadin in wheat. To help to determine the cause of her symptoms, researchers administered a gluten-free diet. The diet resolved her symptoms, and reintroducing a gliadin-rich diet brought her symptoms back.

Celiac and Joint Pain

Celiac disease is an immune system sensitivity to gluten -- a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. If you have celiac, your immune system responds to gluten by producing antibodies that attack your intestines. Over time, this can cause damage to the lining of the small intestine. Symptoms vary widely from person to person. With time, the intestinal damage can prevent your body from absorbing key nutrients, leading to problems such as joint pain, among others, according to MedlinePlus.

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Nonceliac Gluten Sensitivity and Joint Pain

Nonceliac gluten sensitivity is somewhat controversial. There's no blood test to diagnose it since specific antibodies are not present. Nevertheless, it is included in the spectrum of gluten-related disorders. Researchers found that people with nonceliac gluten intolerance had various symptoms, including joint pain, but without specific markers for celiac, according to a study the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology published in September 2012. The researchers did find that patients had a blood pattern that implied they were sensitive to gluten, which suggests a link between nonceliac gluten sensitivity and joint pain.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Talk to your doctor if you think your joint pain is related to wheat intolerance. Your doctor will work to determine where you fall on the spectrum of sensitivity to determine treatment. You'll need to avoid wheat because you're intolerant to one or more of its components. You may even be sensitive to gluten-free products if you're allergic to other components of wheat. However, you may be able to reintroduce wheat after a period of abstinence. Unlike celiacs, people with wheat intolerance may be able to eat rye and barley, according to the British Allergy Foundation.

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