Can gluten intolerance develop later in life?


Gluten intolerance, also known as celiac disease, is a well-known condition that affects individuals who have a genetic predisposition. However, there is a common question that often arises: “Can gluten intolerance develop later in life?” In this article, we will explore the possibility of developing gluten intolerance later in life, the symptoms to watch out for, and what you can do if you suspect you may have developed this condition. So, let’s delve into this topic and gain a better understanding of gluten intolerance and its potential development in adulthood.

Can Gluten Intolerance Develop Later in Life?

Gluten intolerance is often associated with childhood, as symptoms commonly emerge during infancy or early childhood. However, it is possible for gluten intolerance to develop later in life, even if you have had no prior issues with gluten consumption. While it may seem puzzling, researchers have found that adults can develop celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity due to various factors, including genetic predisposition, changes in the gut microbiome, or environmental triggers.

Factors Contributing to the Development of Gluten Intolerance

Several factors can contribute to the development of gluten intolerance later in life:

1. Genetic Predisposition:

Having a family history of celiac disease increases the likelihood of developing gluten intolerance at any age. If you have a first-degree relative with celiac disease, such as a parent or sibling, your risk is significantly higher.

2. Hormonal Changes:

Hormonal changes, such as those that occur during pregnancy, menopause, or hormonal disorders, may trigger the development of gluten intolerance. These changes can impact the body’s immune response and make it more susceptible to gluten-related issues.

3. Gut Microbiome Alterations:

Imbalances in the gut microbiome, which is composed of trillions of bacteria, can disrupt the digestive process and contribute to the development of gluten intolerance. Antibiotic use, stress, and dietary factors can influence the composition of the gut microbiota, potentially leading to gluten-related symptoms.

4. Environmental Triggers:

Certain environmental factors, such as viral infections or severe emotional stress, have been associated with the onset of gluten intolerance in adulthood. These triggers can activate the immune system, leading to an abnormal response to gluten.

5. Latent Celiac Disease:

Some individuals may have a latent form of celiac disease, where symptoms do not manifest until later in life. This delayed onset can make it challenging to identify the underlying cause of the symptoms.

6. Misdiagnosis or Non-Recognition:

It is also possible that some individuals have had undiagnosed gluten intolerance throughout their lives and only discover it later due to misdiagnosis or a lack of recognition of the symptoms.

 Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance in Adults

The symptoms of gluten intolerance in adults can vary widely and may not always be immediately associated with gluten consumption. It is essential to be aware of the following signs that may indicate the development of gluten intolerance later in life:

1. Digestive Issues: Adults with gluten intolerance may experience abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and nausea after consuming gluten-containing foods.

2. Unexplained Weight Loss or Gain: Sudden and unexplained weight loss or weight gain can be indicative of gluten intolerance. Malabsorption of nutrients due to damage to the small intestine is a common cause of weight fluctuations in individuals with celiac disease.

3. Fatigue and Weakness: Feeling tired or weak, even after adequate rest, is a common symptom of gluten intolerance. Nutrient deficiencies resulting from malabsorption can contribute to fatigue.

4. Skin Problems: Skin issues, such as dermatitis herpetiformis, a blistering, itchy skin rash, can be a sign of gluten intolerance in adults. These skin manifestations are related to the immune system’s response to gluten.

5. Joint Pain and Inflammation: Gluten intolerance can trigger inflammation in the body, leading to joint pain, stiffness, and swelling. These symptoms may resemble those of arthritis.

6. Migraines and Headaches: Recurrent migraines or severe headaches that are not linked to other causes may be associated with gluten intolerance. The exact mechanisms behind this connection are still being studied.

It is important to note that the presence of these symptoms does not necessarily confirm gluten intolerance. Consulting with a healthcare professional and undergoing appropriate testing is crucial for an accurate diagnosis.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1: Can gluten intolerance develop suddenly in adulthood?

A1: Yes, gluten intolerance can develop suddenly in adulthood, even if you have had no prior issues with gluten consumption. Genetic predisposition, hormonal changes, or environmental triggers can contribute to the onset of gluten intolerance.

Q2: Can stress trigger gluten intolerance symptoms in adults?

A2: Yes, stress can potentially trigger or worsen gluten intolerance symptoms in adults. The exact mechanisms are not fully understood, but it is believed that stress can affect the gut microbiome and immune system, leading to an abnormal response to gluten.

Q3: Is there a link between gluten intolerance and autoimmune diseases?

A3: Yes, there is a known association between gluten intolerance, particularly celiac disease, and various autoimmune diseases. Conditions such as type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis are more common in individuals with gluten intolerance.

Q4: Can gluten intolerance be outgrown?

A4: Unlike some food allergies, gluten intolerance is a lifelong condition. Once diagnosed, a strict gluten-free diet is the only treatment option. However, with proper adherence to the diet, symptoms can be managed effectively, and intestinal healing can occur.

Q5: Is self-diagnosis of gluten intolerance reliable?

A5: Self-diagnosis of gluten intolerance is not recommended. The symptoms associated with gluten intolerance can overlap with other medical conditions. It is essential to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis through blood tests and, if necessary, a small intestine biopsy.

Q6: Can gluten intolerance cause mental health issues?

A6: There is evidence to suggest that gluten intolerance can contribute to mental health issues in some individuals. Conditions such as depression, anxiety, and cognitive impairment have been linked to gluten-related disorders, emphasizing the importance of proper diagnosis and treatment.


In conclusion, while gluten intolerance is commonly associated with childhood, it can indeed develop later in life. Various factors, including genetic predisposition, hormonal changes, gut microbiome alterations, and environmental triggers, can contribute to the onset of gluten intolerance in adults. It is important to be aware of the symptoms and consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis. Remember, a gluten-free diet is the primary treatment for gluten intolerance, and proper adherence to this diet can help manage symptoms effectively and improve overall well-being. So, if you suspect you may have developed gluten intolerance later in life, seek medical guidance, and take the necessary steps to ensure a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle.

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Cat Hocking

When I discovered that I was gluten intolerant and likely Coaeliac it was a shock and certainly a struggle to find things that I could eat. After a lot of research I amassed lots of resources and strategies that I share with you now in The Gluten Free Resource Hub. You can have a nutritious and enjoyable diet even if you can't tolerate gluten.

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