Does Gluten Cause Diarrhea?
Wheat, barley and rye contain a protein called gluten. In some people, gluten causes an autoimmune reaction, resulting in a wide array of symptoms. One of the most common symptoms of celiac disease, the name of this autoimmune condition, is digestive distress, specifically diarrhea.
What Is Gluten Intolerance?
Approximately one in every 133 Americans has celiac disease, reports the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. Another unknown number of people experience uncomfortable symptoms, such as diarrhea, when consuming gluten, but are not officially diagnosed with the disease -- rather, they are classified as gluten-intolerant. In sensitive people, gluten causes the body to attack itself and destroy the villi in the small intestine. These villi help with nutrient absorption and digestion.
The symptoms of gluten intolerance and celiac disease are varied. Some of the most common are digestive problems such as chronic diarrhea, bloating, gas and vomiting. Celiac may manifest as brain fog, a skin rash, weakness, depression, infertility and tingling. Celiac disease or gluten intolerance may also cause you to be lactose intolerant, because of the destroyed villi. Lactose intolerance may intensify diarrhea and other digestive symptoms.
Chronic diarrhea can lead to unwanted weight loss and malnutrition. If celiac disease goes without treatment, you are at a greater risk of developing serious health conditions including untreatable iron-deficiency anemia, osteoporosis and some cancers. Children with celiac disease may not grow to their full height if they continue to suffer from diarrhea and the subsequent malnutrition.
A gluten-free diet is the only way to treat celiac disease and gluten intolerance. You must avoid all foods containing wheat, barley and rye and their derivatives. All traditional breads, pasta and many cereals are not allowed. Many processed foods contain ingredients such as barley malt syrup and wheat starch, so you have to get good at reading labels and identifying potential contaminants. Although it might seem overwhelming at first, a gluten-free diet can still include most plain meats, fish, poultry, fruits, vegetables, alternative grains like quinoa and brown rice, eggs and nuts and seeds. Dairy is allowed on a gluten-free diet. If you suffer from lactose intolerance that is tied to your gluten intolerance, the symptoms of diarrhea and bloating may disappear after your villi heal from following a gluten-free plan for several months.
- National Foundation for Celiac Awareness: Celiac Disease Facts and Figures
- University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center: Symptoms
- Living Gluten-Free for Dummies; Danna Korn
- brown rice image by Steve Lovegrove from Fotolia.com