For some, summer marks the season for showing off all the exercise and healthy choices they’ve committed to this year. On the other hand, for many others, the season can represent an ongoing struggle to reach their fitness goals. There are many variables involved in weight loss, muscle gain and overall physical health: lifestyle choices, age, hormones, genes, thyroid issues, and the list goes on. But let me introduce you to a possible culprit that may surprise you and isn’t always considered in fitness discussions: gluten sensitivity.
Gluten is a protein found primarily in wheat, barley and rye. Celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) are two separate types of gluten-related disorders with increasing numbers of sufferers. Celiac Disease, a condition where eating gluten triggers an autoimmune reaction causing damage to the small intestine, is reported to affect one percent of the population. According to Dr. Allesio Fasano, medical director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Celiac Research, gluten sensitivity may affect six to seven percent of the population, and other researchers say it can be even higher.
Whether a person suffers from celiac disease or NCGS, any gluten immune reaction can present itself with similar symptoms. While each individual symptom does not indicate gluten immune intolerance, it is worth looking into if you feel like a few or all of the following symptoms may be hindering your personal summer fitness and wellness goals:
Abdominal issues – It should be of no surprise that the following digestive reactions would be at the top of the gluten-sensitivity symptom chain:
- Pain or discomfort
These symptoms can make it uncomfortable to exercise and challenging to maintain a diet plan.
- Chronic fatigue – CF is a symptom of many disorders and diseases and alone does not indicate gluten sensitivity. However, when coupled with other common symptoms of gluten sensitivities, this could be an indicator of gluten intolerance. When our digestive system is not functioning properly or has autoimmune aggravation, it can result in lack of energy and an overall tired or sluggish feeling. Needless to say, this does not bode well for anyone trying to reach his or her fitness goals.
- Malabsorption – Autoimmune reactions triggered by gluten sensitivity can result in the body’s inability to properly absorb vitamins and nutrients. While this is usually an indicator of celiac disease—where the gluten protein attacks the small intestine—it has recently been discovered that this condition can occur as a result of NCGS as well. Either way, a lack of any nutrients can throw the body’s digestive function off, resulting in weight gain or loss.
- Joint Pain – This is a common result of inflammation, which can come from the immune system’s response to fighting off gluten. In the case of gluten sensitivity, the immune system fights the gluten directly. With celiac disease, immune-system miscommunication causes the body to fight off its own tissue, in this case the small intestine villi. The resulting inflammation can cause joint pain, making exercise uncomfortable and painful.
- Gluten Ataxia – Neurological damage in the brain characterized by the loss of balance and coordination that’s due to gluten consumption can make routine daily activities challenging. Try holding your yoga positions or doing the stair climber with this occurring! Not an easy feat.
- Depression – Including anxiety, irritability and even ADHD, are common health conditions found amongst people with undiagnosed celiac disease or NCGS. These symptoms can flare within hours of exposure to gluten and last for up to several days. This can cause an extreme hindrance on workout schedules and healthy eating.
- Brain Fog – Many people who suffer from gluten sensitivity experience trouble thinking clearly, impaired memory, lack of focus or just feeling like they are in a fog. This can make every day activities exceedingly difficult to complete and often results in less time, drive and ability for one to partake in extracurricular activities, such as exercising.
- Migraines – Along with frequent headaches, migraines are yet another symptom of many medical issues. However, when occurring along with any of the other symptoms mentioned here, migraines can be indicative of gluten intolerance. Try paying attention to the timing of your migraines. If they are occurring on the same day or even the next day, you should be suspect. Migraines can certainly slow individuals down from exercising as well as work and everyday activities.
Because celiac disease and NCGS symptoms can be mistaken for other disorders, they are easy to overlook. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above and you are having difficulty achieving your fitness goals, it could be worthwhile to get tested for gluten intolerance. Cyrex Laboratories, a clinical laboratory specializing in advanced, innovative testing designed to detect food sensitivities and monitor autoimmune reactivities and their possible triggers, just introduced the new Array 3X – Wheat/Gluten Proteome Reactivity & Autoimmunity Screen. This is an expanded panel of the Array 3 -Wheat/Gluten Reactivity testing with the introduction of four new antigens. It is recommended to speak with your primary care physician, who can determine whether gluten intolerance testing might be right for you.
While a gluten-free diet is not necessarily recommended for general weight loss, it can be the answer for those with a gluten sensitivity that is preventing them from achieving their fitness goals. Determining if gluten is holding you back from a healthy life begins with paying attention to how your body is feeling and finding answers through medical advice and the right testing.
Dr. Chad Larson, NMD, DC, CCN, CSCS, Advisor and Consultant on the Clinical Consulting Team for Cyrex Laboratories. Dr. Larson holds a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine degree from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and a Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Southern California University of Health Sciences. He is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He particularly pursues advanced developments in the fields of endocrinology, orthopedics, sports medicine and environmentally-induced chronic disease.