Why Does Gluten Cause Bloating?
Gluten sensitivities and intolerances are common digestive issues affecting people worldwide. If you find that you get a bloated, swollen stomach after eating a slice of toast or tucking into a delicious pizza, you might be one of these people!
If this is the case, you’re not alone. Bloating and excess gas are two of the most common symptoms associated with gluten sensitivity or intolerance.
Individuals with only mild gluten issues can get away with continuing to eat gluten-rich foods, like bread, pasta, pastries, and cakes. They may need to make some lifestyle changes to reduce bloating, supplement with digestive enzymes, or practice portion control to minimise the risk of bloating.
However, those of you who have severe gluten intolerances (such as coeliac disease) will need to avoid gluten-containing foods altogether. Consuming gluten could put your health at risk, and you should always follow your doctor's or dietician's advice. We don’t want any of you ending up in the hospital after reading this article!
Today, you’ll learn what gluten is, what gluten intolerance is and why an intolerance to gluten causes bloating. You’ll also discover the best natural remedies you can use to keep digestive issues at bay if you want to continue eating your favourite gluten-containing foods.
What Is Gluten and Gluten Intolerance?
Gluten is a structural protein that comprises two main protein groups - glutenins and gliadins. It’s present in various grains, including wheat, barley, and rye. It improves the dough's elastic properties and helps it rise during baking.
Gluten makes up 75-85% of the total protein found in wheat (which is why people with gluten intolerance have to avoid wheat-containing products like the plague!).
Gluten is a common food allergen that is responsible for triggering coeliac disease. It can also trigger a range of autoimmune, inflammatory, and immunological issues in those with gluten intolerance. These disorders are treated with a gluten-free diet.
Why Does Gluten Cause Bloating?
When someone with gluten intolerance consumes gluten, they can experience mild, moderate, or severe digestive symptoms, including bloating, excess gas, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, and constipation. They might also experience additional symptoms like fatigue, headaches, and skin issues.
The severity of symptoms between those with coeliac disease and gluten intolerance varies, with the former causing more severe reactions to gluten. However, individuals with a coeliac diagnosis and those with mild gluten intolerance can experience bloating as a symptom of gluten consumption.
It’s thought that bloating after gluten consumption is caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and immunological factors. Intestinal permeability is thought to play a role in someone’s response to gluten. Someone with high intestinal permeability will allow more substances to pass into the blood from the small intestines, which can contribute to inflammation and bloating.
A person’s unique gut microbiome composition can also affect their digestive symptoms if they eat gluten. An unbalanced gut microbiome often means more bloating, even with the help of probiotic and digestive enzyme supplements!
Signs of Gluten Intolerance
Bloating is a common symptom of many health conditions, and you can experience it due to hormonal changes, dehydration, lack of physical activity, or simply eating more food than usual. Because bloating is so common (and has been normalised in society), it’s hard to know whether your bloating is caused by gluten.
Learning the signs of gluten intolerance will help you to identify whether your digestive issues are due to these issues or something else. Here are the most common indicators that you have gluten intolerance:
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Brain fog
- Muscle weakness
- Recurrent headaches
- Skin problems, including rashes, itchiness, and dermatitis herpetiformis
The Diagnosis of Gluten Intolerance
If you experience a combination of the above symptoms when you ingest something that contains gluten, it could be a sign of intolerance. If this is the case, speak to a doctor and request a referral to a dietitian who can assess you fully to confirm or rule out gluten intolerance.
To diagnose gluten intolerance, the dietitian may perform a range of diagnostic tests, including a screen for coeliac disease.
1. Antibody test
Your healthcare professional will take blood tests to check for the presence of specific antibodies that are associated with coeliac disease, such as transglutaminase (tTG) antibodies. Elevated transglutaminase antibodies can indicate that you’ve had an immune response to gluten and may be intolerant or have coeliac disease.
2. Total IgA test
This test measures the level of immunoglobulin A (IgA) in your blood. If you have coeliac disease, you will have IgA deficiency, so your levels will appear low on this test.
3. Human leukocyte antigen (HLA) testing
Your doctor or dietician may test for the presence of genetic markers that are associated with a higher risk of coeliac disease. Note that having this genetic marker doesn’t guarantee that you’ll have celiac disease or even gluten intolerance.
4. Intestinal biopsy
You may undergo an intestinal biopsy to check for potential damage to the villi (which are small finger-like structures lining the intestine). This is performed under sedation or anaesthesia using an endoscope that is inserted into your small intestine via your mouth, and a small instrument is used to take the tissue sample.
Your doctor or dietician might also want to perform some additional tests to fully rule out other digestive conditions. Based on your personal and family medical history, they might test for g for wheat allergy, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), or other possible causes of your symptoms.
What to Do if You Eat Gluten and Get Bloated
If you suspect you have gluten intolerance, it’s often best to eliminate it from your diet altogether to stop digestive symptoms. However, this is much easier said than done.
So many food products contain gluten nowadays, and many of these foods aren’t carbohydrate-based. Most of us know that bread and pasta contain gluten, but many people don’t realise that gluten sneaks its way into many other foods, including soy sauce, marinades, deli meats, meat substitutes, and packaged bars and cookies.
Although oats are a gluten-free grain in and of themselves, they’re often produced in factories that handle a lot of gluten-rich foods, so they tend to be contaminated by the time they arrive at the supermarket.
Because gluten is so abundant in modern-day foods, you might not be keen on cutting it out of your diet completely (which is understandable). As long as you’re willing to put up with the potential negative symptoms of consuming gluten, this is totally okay if you only have a mild tolerance. If you have coeliac disease, however, you will need to follow a strict gluten-free diet and this is something that a dietician can guide you with.
Here are some simple things that you can do to relieve bloating and excess gas after eating gluten-containing foods if you’re slightly intolerant.
1. Take a daily probiotic supplement
One of the main causes of bloating and other digestive issues is gut microbiota dysbiosis, which refers to when your gut bugs are imbalanced. Sometimes, the levels of helpful bacteria to potentially harmful bacteria change, and this can lead to slower digestion and a bunch of negative symptoms.
Adding a probiotic supplement to your daily routine, such as our A Dose For Bloating supplement, can help to restore balance in your gut microbiome. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that you have naturally in your gut, but if your gut bugs are currently imbalanced, you can take a supplement to boost the levels of good bacteria in your colon.
When choosing a probiotic supplement, find one that contains at least one billion colony-forming units (CFUs) of probiotic bacteria, as this is the recommended minimum amount required for a supplement to be effective. Always buy your supplements from a credible and trustworthy brand that sells third-party tested products so you can be sure that you’re getting the most out of your money.
You can also consume probiotics in foods. Probiotic-rich foods to add to your diet include any sort of fermented foods, such as yoghurt, kefir, miso, tempeh, tofu, natto, sauerkraut, and kimchi, and in drinks like kombucha. These foods, alongside a supplement, will help to support your digestion and minimise bloating when you eat gluten.
2. Reduce your gluten consumption using gluten-free alternatives
If you have gluten intolerance, consuming a high number and volume of gluten-containing foods in one sitting is probably not a good idea. If you are going to eat gluten, try to avoid having a lot in a single sitting.
Find gluten-free alternatives to reduce the total amount of gluten that you consume in your meals and snacks. You’ll find gluten-free options in most shops and many supermarkets have a full aisle (or part of an aisle) dedicated to gluten-free products!
For example, you can get gluten-free pasta, noodles, bread, cookies, and granola bars. Opting for these alternatives wherever possible will leave room for foods that contain smaller amounts of gluten and don’t cause severe bloating.
3. Stay hydrated
Drinking adequate water is crucial to maintaining proper digestion and alleviating bloating. Dehydration can slow down the movement of food through the digestive tract, causing your gut bugs to ferment it more than usual. This leads to excess gas, bloating, and abdominal cramps.
Drink sips of water regularly throughout the day to avoid thirst and dehydration. Aim for at least two litres, although you might need more based on your individual needs and physical activity levels. Remember to drink more during and after your workouts and on hot, humid days.
4. Practice mindful eating
The idea of mindful eating might sound strange to some of you, but it works! Mindful eating involves focusing on your food as you eat it and eliminating distractions, such as your phone or the television. When you fully focus on your food, you can take note of when you start to feel full so that you don’t overeat.
Plus, the digestive process starts with your eyes. When you look at the food in front of you, your salivary glands begin to produce saliva, which contains lots of digestive enzymes. When you pick up your fork and take a bite of this food, the digestive enzymes in your mouth can get to work immediately. Faster digestion means less bloating, even when you are consuming gluten.
5. Get moving after you’ve eaten meals and snacks
Being sedentary after a meal or snack can slow down your digestion and exacerbate bloating, especially if you’ve eaten something with gluten and you are intolerant. Instead of sitting down after you’ve eaten, get your body moving to aid digestion and reduce the risk of digestive symptoms.
Even if it’s a quick walk around the block or doing some physically laborious house chores, keeping your body moving for around 10-15 minutes after your gluten-containing meals should keep negative digestive symptoms at bay.