What are the Effects of Gluten on the Body?

The consumption of gluten can lead to complications in some people who either have celiac disease or are sensitive to it. Today's article will discuss the effects of gluten on your body.
What are the Effects of Gluten on the Body?
Florencia Villafañe

Written and verified by the nutritionist Florencia Villafañe.

Last update: 27 May, 2022

Some people have a gluten intolerance due to the effects this protein has on the body. However, the symptoms vary from person to person. This is why everyone should be aware of the possible consequences of this substance.

Researchers have identified several conditions associated with the intake of this substance and the most common ones are celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. The body reaction has to do with the activation of the cells of the immune system.

What exactly is gluten?

Gluten is a protein that’s not present as such in food but forms when oats, rye, barley, and wheat come into contact with water. The latter is the one with the greatest capacity to produce it.

Wheat has been part of the Western diet as a staple food for about 10,000 years though. However, the food industry has genetically modified it, making it increasingly resistant to pests and weather conditions.

It’s precisely due to this that its consumption increased progressively. Actually, it’s because its viscosity and elasticity made it a remarkable ingredient not only for junkie industrial pastries but also as a food additive.

Thus, it promoted the overexposure of the population to gluten and associated diseases arose as a consequence. Also, research determined that genetic predisposition plays an important role in the development of gluten intolerance.

Gluten containing food.
Gluten is commonly present in pantries; however, some people cannot tolerate it.

Look at The Health Implications of a Gluten-Free Diet

Effects of gluten on the body

Scientific evidence shows that people with gluten disorders often present gastrointestinal and extra-intestinal symptoms. In turn, the damage to the intestinal villi leads to further consequences.

Its most common clinical manifestations include:

  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Abdominal pain
  • Excessive gas production
  • Feeling of fullness after meals
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Muscle pains
  • Dermatitis
  • Anemia
  • Irritability

Other complications associated with gluten

According to a study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine, it’s common for children not diagnosed with celiac disease to show an inability to gain weight, anorexia, vitamin deficiencies, and tooth enamel defects, in addition to the above symptoms.

The article also demonstrates that in adolescents and adults the manifestations tend to be more atypical. In general, the symptoms are nonspecific and may even appear to be unrelated to digestive system problems.

According to the Guidelines of the World Gastroenterology Organization, the continuous intake of foods with gluten can lead to other problems, such as:

  • Endocrine disorders
  • Primary infertility
  • Recurring abortions
  • Delayed puberty
  • Early menopause
  • Bone problems such as osteopenia, osteoporosis, and osteomalacia

Similarly, it appears that people with long-term untreated celiac disease are at increased risk for complications such as intestinal cancer, malignant lymphomas, oropharyngeal tumors, and bone fractures.

Elimination of gluten from the diet

Science backs the fact that the best treatment for any gluten intolerance is a gluten-free diet for life. Thus, they must eliminate any products made from wheat, oats, rye, and barley (TACC). Also, you must keep in mind that many types of processed food could contain them.

For instance, there could be gluten in some types of ice cream, sauces, salad dressings, beer, and even in beverages and some medications. Fortunately, most products these days label products as “Wheat Free” and “Gluten-Free.” They implemented such logos several years ago to identify gluten-free products.

Even so, you must take into account that meats, fruits, vegetables, or other foods could be contaminated by the mere fact of being in contact with gluten. Thus, you must be aware of what you buy.

An array of gluten-free food.
The gluten-free diet is the best treatment for diseases associated with the intake of this protein.

See also Is it Right to Include Gluten-Free Products in Your Diet?

A wholesome wheat-free diet

Anyone who follows a strict diet, whatever it may be, must ensure it’s balanced. When looking for alternatives for wheat, there are some great options such as:

  • Rice
  • Millet
  • Corn
  • Sorghum
  • Quinoa
  • Buckwheat
  • Amaranth

As usual, consult a doctor or nutritional professional if you have any questions. They should be able to help you design a proper diet just for you after evaluating your particular case.

What to remember about the effects of gluten on the body

Finally, it’s important to remember that the effects of gluten on the body are many and varied. While some people can digest it, others are allergic to it and become sick after ingesting it. It mainly affects the digestive system.

Thus, consult a doctor if you have any symptoms of intolerance so they can make a proper diagnosis. Keep in mind you’ll have to adjust your diet if they confirm a gluten intolerance or celiac disease.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Reig-Otero, Y., Mañes, J., Manyes, I., & Font, L. (2017). Sensibilidad al gluten no celíaca (SGNC): manejo nutricional de la enfermedad. Nutr Clin Diet Hosp37(1), 171-82.
  • de Jesús Cobos-Quevedo, O., Hernández-Hernández, G. A., & Remes-Troche, J. M. (2017). Trastornos relacionados con el gluten: panorama actual. Medicina interna de México33(4), 487-502.
  • Pes GM, Bibbò S, Dore MP. Coeliac disease: beyond genetic susceptibility and gluten. A narrative review. Ann Med. 2019;51(1):1-16. doi:10.1080/07853890.2019.1569254
  • Parada, A., & Araya, M. (2010). El gluten: Su historia y efectos en la enfermedad celíaca. Revista médica de Chile138(10), 1319-1325.
  • Bai, J., Zeballos, E., Fried, M., Corazza, G., Schuppan, D., & Farthing, M. (2012). Guías Mundiales de la Organización Mundial de Gastroenterología: Enfermedad celíaca.
  • Han Y, Chen W, Li P, Ye J. Association Between Coeliac Disease and Risk of Any Malignancy and Gastrointestinal Malignancy: A Meta-Analysis. Medicine (Baltimore). 2015;94(38):e1612. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000001612
  • Akhondi H, Ross AB. Gluten And Associated Medical Problems. [Updated 2020 Jul 6]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538505/

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.