Published June 14, 2021

You may have heard the term. You may even have been diagnosed with this common condition yourself. But just what causes gluten intolerance?

As the name suggests, gluten plays a central role in this condition. This dense protein is found in grains, particularly wheat, barley, oats and rye. Two studies published in 2015 suggest as many as 13% of the population may struggle with a range of unpleasant symptoms caused by gluten sensitivity. 

At its most severe, gluten intolerance becomes coeliac disease, a condition in which the immune system produces antibodies in response to gluten, causing painful inflammation and damage to the digestive system. Coeliac disease is relatively rare, affecting no more than around 1% of us.


Common symptoms of gluten intolerance 


This swollen, gassy sensation after eating is one of the commonest symptoms of gluten intolerance: according to a 2014 study, no less than 87% of sufferers say they experience it. Bloating is triggered by the production of excess gas and water as the body struggles to digest gluten. 


Abdominal pain

Pain in the abdomen after eating is another frequent system: more than 80% of sufferers report it.


Diarrhea and constipation 

These symptoms are triggered when gluten is not properly digested, producing water that unbalances the digestive system. More than half of sufferers experience the former and about a quarter the latter symptom. If left untreated malnutrition and dehydration can develop. 


Headaches and migraines 

In 2013, researchers found a link between gluten intolerance and a higher propensity for headaches and migraines.



As many as 80% of sufferers feel tired and drained of energy after eating gluten-rich foods. Gluten intolerance can also cause poor absorption of iron from food, triggering iron-deficiency anaemia, which further lowers energy levels and often causes dizziness and muscle weakness too. Anaemia is the commonest form of malnutrition. 


Muscular pains

The inflammation caused by gluten intolerance can cause muscle and joint pains.



Neuropathy is a form of nerve damage which causes tingling and numbness. It can have multiple causes but gluten intolerance increases the risk of developing these symptoms.

Beyond physical aches and pains, gluten intolerance has also been linked to higher levels of anxiety and to so-called ‘brain fog’: difficulty concentrating and thinking clearly. The latter is more common than you might expect: no less than 40% of gluten intolerant people say they experience it.


Taking action

If you think you may have difficulty with gluten it is important to speak to your doctor first to rule out the possibility of coeliac disease which can be serious and does require medical treatment. But if you are fortunate enough to test negative for the severest form of gluten intolerance, you may be left to your own devices while you wait for a referral to an NHS nutritionist. 

But why wait months for a referral, feeling miserable, when you can do something today? Take control of your health with a Complete Sensitivity Test and receive a full analysis of your body’s particular blend of sensitivities. You’ll be able to use this invaluable information to create a fully personalised diet plan.



Written by Bev Walton

Food Writer and Nutritionist, dietician

A chef of over 35 years with experience in all types of cuisine, dietary plans, recipe development, health and nutrition. I have been writing for over 10 years for both magazines, websites and ghostwriting for ebooks, Kindle and fully published books. I have a degree in nutrition and dietetics and work with restaurants and organisations within the healthcare profession. I am also able to take high quality photographs of recipes created. No writing task is too great, and whilst I specialise in the above, I am able to write about any topic you throw at me. Member of the Guild of food writers.

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