Hidden Gluten Reactions, What Is It Like?

Once you have started a gluten free diet, hidden gluten in foods can cause a gluten intolerance reaction. While this may not happen for a few weeks or months, it is quite uncomfortable for most people when it does. Do not be dismayed, or feel you have lost the battle. It happens to everyone.

Sometimes you forget to read the package, especially if you've used it for some time with no trouble. Sometimes, it's not stated clearly on the package. It can happen in a restaurant. It can happen from overlooking a source of cross contamination, like a scratched baking pan previously used for wheat items. It can even happen from a gluten eating spouse forgetting to brush their teeth before kissing you, or from lipstick or other makeup.

The foods that often contain hidden gluten are listed on the

Foods to Avoid page

What does it feel like to get "glutened"?

Everyone is different, and reacts differently. Some may have all the same symptoms that I get. Others may not even feel it, but it will still be damaging their intestine. For some it's a matter of degree. The amount of hidden gluten will also make a difference as to how intense the reaction will be.

When I get "glutened" I usually am very tired, and have a headache. I'm talking about the kind of tired where you don't want to have to get up and walk to the bathroom. The kind where you cannot motivate yourself to start anything, and if you do start, you wish you hadn't.

I also have a rash, on my scalp, my back, and (only with gluten,) in the groin. It's very itchy, but Benadryl helps (the name brand is gluten free). I am very bloated, my stomach is queasy, my belly cramps, and I often have diarrhea. This will be worst in the first 5 days or so. This is with hidden gluten in small amounts. I haven't experienced a heavy dose, as when someone deliberately eats a gluten food.

I usually have to go to a bland liquid diet, because everything else hurts to try and digest. So it's back to the chicken soup (recipe link below) for me. The stomach queasiness can last up to two weeks for me.

All this is uncomfortable, but what is hardest to deal with is the brain fog. I cannot concentrate or think through anything complex. I forget what I was doing, or going to do. Especially if I go to another room to get something. By the time I get there I can't remember what I went for. I won't watch anything on TV that is remotely complex, because I can't even follow the plot. I often watch something I've seen before, because then I don't have to think. I usually feel pretty depressed too.

My husband doesn't get the itchy rash. He does however get very tired, like me. He will get a dull headache, and just not want to do anything. He doesn't get the cramping. He does get the diarrhea. He tends to be weak and can't lift much. He also eats the chicken soup, in fact he insists on having it. If he gets a serious glutening, it can take 2 weeks or more before he feels normal again. As far as brain function, he is forgetful and irritable. He mostly just wants to sleep. He also feels depressed.

What Can You Do About It?

If you get "glutened" (hidden gluten) accidentally, try to figure out what did it. Hidden barley (see picture) is often the culprit.

field of barley

Stay hydrated, because it's easy to get dehydrated if you have diarrhea. Don't take on too much, because your body needs to be babied a little. It has healing to do, and it can take weeks to heal from even a "light" glutening.

Even after the worst of the symptoms have passed, it will still be somewhat touchy. Avoid acidic foods like tomato and pickles. Spicy is painful too when things are raw. Stick to light, bland and nourishing. Steamed vegetables, stir fry, soup and stew are the easiest to digest. If you can, wear loose comfortable clothing. Don't lift heavy objects if you don't have to, it just makes it hurt worse.

There is a new product called GlutenEase, which may help some if you accidentally ate gluten, if you can take it right away. I have not tried it myself yet.

I sometimes take L-Glutamine, an amino acid, to help the healing process. I use 500-1000 mg Jarrow brand per day and I take it on an empty stomach first thing in the morning. I only use it for a week or so at a time. (L-Glutamine should not be taken if you have kidney or liver problems, and some people with mainly neurological symptoms have had bad reactions to it. Ask your doctor before using.)

If my intestines feel really raw, I might take some slippery elm as a tea or in a capsule. It coats the intestine. Ask your health care provider if that would be helpful for you.

At the end of the two weeks, I usually take some probiotics. I like MegaFlora, as it is gluten, dairy, and soy free. It helps to restore the balance of good bacteria in the intestine, which are needed by the body. And of course I try not to get any more hidden gluten.

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