Wheat intolerance is a condition in which the body has difficulty digesting wheat and wheat products. A person with wheat intolerance experiences chronic symptoms such as joint pain, digestive problems, eczema, depression, and low levels of iron. It is often confused with wheat allergy, a more acute condition triggered by a certain component of wheat and characterized by vomiting, asthma, coughing, and shortness of breath.
Many cases of wheat intolerance go undiagnosed because they do not show any definitive symptoms and usually do not cause any problems. However, studies suggest that the condition may affect long-term health, which is why doctors suggest testing for wheat intolerance before a child reaches puberty (wheat allergy is usually diagnosed as soon as the child starts eating solid food).
Wheat intolerance symptoms tend to have a delayed onset; that is, the reaction happens over two to three days. This is partly what makes the condition hard to diagnose. After consuming gluten, the ingredient causing the adverse reaction, sufferers may experience gastrointestinal problems (including diarrhea, constipation, or bloating), headaches, joint pain, and skin dryness or rashes. They may also feel generally unwell and have unusual food cravings, even if they have just eaten.
Neurological problems are one of the least noticed wheat intolerance symptoms. Often, a patient will feel depressed or become irritable, or even suffer some mild memory loss. These are seldom brought up with the doctor because the link to digestive conditions is unclear. The fact that many autistic children are also wheat-intolerant can also make it hard to determine what is causing the symptoms.
Before testing for wheat intolerance, a doctor may ask a patient to keep a dietary log over a period of 30 to 40 days. This is because, as mentioned above, wheat intolerance symptoms take a while to develop and the results of testing can be affected by what the person has eaten in the last few days. The log can be provided by the hospital or designed by the doctor. Different versions can also be found online for those who prefer to test on their own.
If you or your child is diagnosed with wheat intolerance, ask your doctor about diet adjustments that can help alleviate the condition. Many people develop better tolerance over time by following a strict diet over several months, and simply watching their wheat intake afterwards. Wheat-free and gluten-free foods can be found in health stores and in special sections of most groceries.