Gluten Withdrawal Symptoms: List of Possibilities

Some people experience very subtle or no gluten withdrawal symptoms when they stop eating it, but others experience moderately debilitating symptoms that can last weeks before improving. Below is a list of possible symptoms that you may experience when discontinuing gluten. Keep in mind that the severity and duration of symptoms will be largely individualized.
  • Anger: If you turn into a raging maniac when discontinuing gluten, you are not alone. Many people have reported anger outbursts and feeling especially irritable when they cannot have their gluten. It could be related to the lack of opioid stimulation (which can calm us down) from gluten.
  • Anxiety: Some people end up feeling increasingly anxious when they withdraw from gluten. This anxiety may be due to a number of biochemical changes that occur in the physiology as a result of gluten discontinuation. The body is expecting to receive the energy and opioid effects from gluten products, but it doesn’t, and you feel nervous instead of calm.
  • Bloating: This is characterized by swelling or an increase in the diameter of your abdominal area. It may be a highly uncomfortable experience during gluten withdrawal, but should eventually subside. To offset bloating, make sure you are eating healthy foods that contain fibre (e.g. broccoli, berries, etc.).
  • Brain fog: During the initial stages of withdrawal, you may feel as if your concentration is at an all-time low. While eventually your mental clarity and focus will likely return and be sharper than they were with gluten in your diet, the fogginess can sometimes be difficult to deal with. Do not be surprised if your ability to think clearly is hampered in the early stages of withdrawal.
  • Constipation: Some people become constipated when they stop eating gluten. This may be due to their new dietary choices as well as a lack of fibre in the diet. It could also be a result of transitory physiological adjustments taking place in the body. Realize that this will be temporary assuming you are eating a healthy gluten-free diet.
  • Cravings: One of the most prominent symptoms that you’ll experience when withdrawing from gluten is that of cravings. These cravings are generally severe in the early stages and tend to lessen the longer you’ve been gluten-free. Like going through any drug withdrawal, cravings tend to be the worst in the first few weeks or months of withdrawal but will eventually subside completely. Keep in mind that if you aren’t eating sufficient alternative gluten-free foods, cravings may intensify as a result of hunger or lack of nourishment.
  • Depression: Certain individuals become depressed when they stop eating products with gluten. This may be a result of their dependence on the mood-boosting effects of gluten exorphins. The depression may persist for a while, but mood will eventually stabilize and/or become boosted over the long-term as a result of going gluten-free.
  • Diarrhea: Some people notice that they cannot hold down food as well when they quit gluten. They experience diarrhea in the early stages of discontinuation, but eventually, digestion stabilizes. This is a less common reaction than constipation, but still one that certain people report.
  • Dizziness: You may feel slightly dizzy when you discontinue from gluten. This may be due to the neurological mechanisms by which gluten affected your brain. Generally, the dizziness won’t be too severe, but it may be uncomfortable. Keep in mind that it’s temporary and shouldn’t be long-lasting.
  • Fatigue: Another very common symptom to experience is severe fatigue during the early stages of gluten discontinuation. This fatigue may be debilitating for some people to the point that they just want to sleep all day. As long as you’re eating other high-quality foods, your body will eventually adapt to gluten-free foods for its source of “fuel” and fatigue will subside. In fact, many people who’ve been gluten-free for an extended period report having more energy than when they ate gluten.
  • Flu-like symptoms: Those that react severely during gluten withdrawal may develop symptoms similar to having influenza. They may experience dizziness, a headache, joint pains, nausea, and in some cases vomiting. (Obviously, make sure you aren’t actually sick with a virus or the flu). If these symptoms emerged when you quit gluten, it could be a direct result.
  • Headaches: Many people have reported headaches during the first couple of weeks of going gluten-free. These headaches are more likely to occur in the earliest days of withdrawal but should ease up the longer you’ve been functioning without gluten.
  • Hot flashes: Elimination of gluten from the diet may result in experiencing hot flashes (or cold flashes) throughout the day. This is due to the fact that the physiology comes to expect gluten in the diet, and when it doesn’t get it, your body reacts by changing its temperature.
  • Irritability: If you find yourself becoming irritable when you stop eating gluten, it’s probably because your brain is no longer getting the same stimulation. Gluten affects the brain in many ways including by stimulating exorphins, which make us calm. By eliminating gluten, you no longer feel the minor opioid effects, making you feel more irritable than usual.
  • Joint pain: Many people also report feeling intensified joint pain and body aches when they discontinue gluten. These aches and pains can be problematic in the early stages, but should actually improve as you alter your diet to include healthy gluten-free foods. Pain tolerance may be slightly decreased during early stages of withdrawal due to slight opioid alterations.
  • Lightheadedness: If you feel lightheaded, you are not alone. Some people experience dizziness accompanied by lightheadedness during the first few days they go without gluten. Within a week or two this symptom should improve significantly.
  • Mood swings: If you find yourself flipping out or becoming noticeably “moody” – it may be a result of changes occurring as a result of going gluten-free. You no longer are getting the same exorphin stimulation as a result of gluten in your diet, leading you to feel more moody than usual. The good news is that moods tend to not only stabilize, but improve the longer you’ve been without gluten.
  • Nausea: Some people note feeling nauseous when they give up gluten. Nausea may lead to vomiting or lack of appetite. Most people who experience nausea find that it’s relatively mild and eventually subsides within a couple of weeks.
  • Stomach aches: Your body may be expecting to receive gluten, and when it doesn’t, all sorts of symptoms arise including stomach aches. These are likely due to changes in your body’s digestive process. As long as you’re getting sufficient fibre and eating other healthy foods, stomach aches shouldn’t be overwhelming.
  • Vomiting: In some cases, people actually get sick when they go without gluten. This reaction is generally experienced by those who ate high quantities of gluten-based foods and quit cold turkey. If you’re to the point that you’re vomiting, you may want to consider tapering off at a more gradual rate.
  • Weight changes: You may find that gluten withdrawal leads to fluctuations in your weight. Obviously, whether you end up losing weight or gaining weight may depend on the foods that you replace gluten-based foods with. A majority of people though end up losing weight after they’ve discontinued gluten.

How long does gluten withdrawal last?

Everyone wants a specific answer regarding how long gluten withdrawal will last. The problem is that no specific answer can be given due to significant individual variation in: gluten consumption, physiology, lifestyles, and duration over which gluten was consumed. It also may make a difference as to whether you decided to “taper” your gluten or quit “cold turkey.”
Some people may not notice any major symptoms at all when stopping gluten. Most people feel noticeably better after 2 to 4 weeks of complete gluten discontinuation. Others may experience protracted cravings and withdrawals that persist for several months. It is very difficult for some people to give up diets with high gluten for numerous reasons such as foods with gluten can be addicting, they can lead to temporary pleasure or mood boosts (via exorphins), and they can alter the way we metabolize food.
When going through gluten withdrawal, realize that your body needs to recalibrate its metabolism, gut biome, and other physiological functions. Therefore, it may take a while before all withdrawal symptoms to clear up and noticeably improve. Understand that many of these symptoms are a direct cause of eliminating gluten-derived opioids (exorphins) from daily consumption.
You may want to consider various dietary supplements including sea salt, magnesium, and probiotics to help mitigate the effects of gluten withdrawal. Also, remember to stay sufficiently hydrated, but don’t over-hydrate (as this can lead to problems). If you’ve experienced withdrawal symptoms when cutting gluten from your diet, feel free to share with us. Discuss the severity of your symptoms, what you experienced, and how long they lasted before noticing improvement.
Referenced and extracted from Mental Health Daily