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How Long Before A Gluten-Free Diet Kicks In?

Spencer Cailas


Most people who quit gluten end up being severely disappointed in the first few weeks of their new and radical lifestyle change.

The reason is that the debilitating niggles that they had expected to disappear overnight, only seem to get aggravated.

Diarrhea sufferers experience the most excruciatingly painful bouts of bowel movement. People who had minor joint pains feel like the synovial fluid has been replaced by acid and those who suffered headaches feel like their skulls will explode with the pain.

Why does switching to gluten-free diet result in aggravated symptoms?  How long before the effects of gluten-free diet begins to kick in?

Here’s the low down on it.

Two types of reactions

It would be fair to say that there are two types of reactions that have been observed in people who switch to a gluten-free diet.

The first category of people starts to experience the benefits in a matter of days. Some in just a week. The first symptom to disappear is the fatigue one experiences with gluten and the IBS like symptoms, including diarrhea.

Others do not experience a relief in symptoms for weeks or months. This is typically for conditions like dermatitis herpetiformis, which can take up to 6 months to clear off completely.

The people who experience aggravated symptoms however are experiencing the withdrawal symptoms of gluten. Oh yes, you heard that right.

The gluten protein when metabolized in the body is broken down further into peptides called gluteomorphins. These peptides mimic the effect of morphine when they reach the brain. So, when the supply of these peptides is suddenly stopped, the body experiences withdrawal symptoms that are similar to that of morphine withdrawal.

The withdrawal symptoms can be mild and last for just a day or two in normal cases. Rarely, they can last for weeks or even months and can include severe diarrhea, depression, joint pain, constipation, paranoia, fatigue and anxiety.

Withdrawal Symptoms

There are multiple theories that are suggested by healthcare experts that explain the opioid like withdrawal symptoms that people experience when they go gluten-free.

One of the theories is that the opioid effects alter the metabolism of serotonin in the body. Contrary to popular notion, 95% of the Serotonin in our bodies is in our gut. When the metabolism is altered, the function of this neurotransmitter is affected and the immediate result is on our digestive health and mental function.

Also, the intestinal flora (the balance of good and bad bacteria) is significantly altered by the withdrawal of gluten. This may result in bacterial infections that can leech a molecule called a lipopolysaccharide into the blood. This molecule which is a combination of a lipid and a polysaccharide trigger an autoimmune response which can lead to swollen joints.

Another theory states that the body may continue to produce the lgA antibodies for months after you stop using gluten. For this reason, it is advised that people gradually wean off a gluten-based diet, especially if gluten was a significant part of your diet for years. Going cold turkey may trigger some of these adverse reactions that we mentioned earlier.

Some of the symptoms that may occur when you go gluten-free

For those who do not experience aggravated reactions, going gluten-free isn’t a walk in the park either. The first and most common symptom that usually occurs in the first few days of stopping gluten is increased hunger.

Don’t be surprised of your new found gluttony on the dinner table. Hell, you will be craving for food all day. That’s completely normal though. This happens because the body, which was unable to absorb nutrients for such a long time is suddenly coping with its new found absorption prowess. The hunger will gradually abate and going gluten-free will not expand your waistline as you’d expect it to in the first few days.

Is gluten hiding in your house?

A common mistake that people often make while removing gluten from their diet is to not find the hidden sources of gluten that can lurk in uncanny places. This can lead to a situation in which you may ingest tiny traces of gluten without even realizing it, triggering a slew of unpleasant symptoms.

If you are extremely sensitive, then even a whiff of gluten is enough to set you on the same path once again.

Start off by doing a kitchen cleaning exercise and eliminating any sources of gluten that you may have missed out on. Throwing out your toaster does not suffice.

Your cutlery drawer may be hiding gluten. There may be spreads, condiments, beverages which may either contain gluten or may be contaminated with gluten.

Your oatmeal breakfast is a possible culprit. So is soy sauce. Any condiment or snack or sauce that is in your kitchen without a gluten-free label has to go. Toileteries and cosmetics can also be contaminated with gluten.

Whether it does affect people with Celiac is a debated topic because gluten cannot be absorbed through the skin. But why would you even want to take chances?  There have been cases in which people have experienced symptoms like Dermatitis herpetiformis after using body lotions containing gluten molecules. So get rid of any toiletries and cosmetics that are not labeled gluten-free.

Once you have removed all traces of gluten and are diligent about eating only gluten-free foods, you should start to experience the benefits of the gluten-free diet in some time.

Remember, it is not a medication or a temporary treatment. It is a lifestyle change that will take patience, persistence and tons of awareness. You will have to stay one step ahead to ensure that gluten doesn’t find its way again into your system.