How do I know if I’m sensitive to grains?

A reader asked this elsewhere on the site and I thought it worth answering here as well, since many of you may be suffering unknowingly. Grain intolerance — or more precisely, an inflammatory response to the proteins in grains, which can touch off a host of autoimmune symptoms — is relatively common. Unfortunately few affected people realize it, because the symptoms aren’t always stomach-based, and/or typically appear hours after consumption. And since most North Americans’ diet is grain-based, people with intolerances find themselves just chronically, generally ill from multiple ongoing exposure.

If you find yourself having vague autoimmune symptoms, consider eliminating grains for a week and see if that helps. Be sure to check for things like wheat gluten in ANY processed/prepared foods, including sauces and condiments… but if you’re eating Stumptuous style that means whole foods, so you shouldn’t be eating that crap anyway. Bear in mind that it isn’t just gluten; gluten is just one substance that can trigger the autoimmune response.

Here are some typical symptoms. You may have one, a few, or all of them. They may range from mild to severe. My own symptoms manifest themselves as allergies and skin irritation, which are almost precisely timed at 4 hours after grain consumption.

  • Excessive fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Vague digestive complaints: nausea, bloating, not feeling “right”
  • Acute digestive complaints: cramping, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, or alternating constipation and diarrhea — anything related to irritable bowel syndrome
  • Skin irritations: rashes, psoriasis-type lesions, eczema
  • Nasal allergies and irritation: sinusitis, the snufflies, congestion
  • Joint pain and muscle aches — including exacerbated menstrual cramps and pain
  • Chronic yeast infections
  • Chronic urinary tract infections
  • Iron deficiency anemia (since grains contain phytates that may inhibit proper mineral absorption)

Basically anything that seems like an autoimmune-type chronic disorder may be caused by intolerance. The mucosal tissues (gut lining, nasogastric passage, vaginal lining) are the most likely affected, but effects can persist throughout and manifest themselves as chronic autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, allergies and asthma, chronic fatigue, etc. Some people even suggest that things like type 1 diabetes are linked to the autoimmune response to grains (since T1D is generally understood to be an autoimmune disorder).

The only way to know for sure is to eliminate ALL grains for a period of time and see.

More reading:

Gluten sensitivity

Celiac disease