Gluten Sensitivity vs. Allergies, Understanding the difference

What’s the difference between a Celiac Disease,  Gluten Sensitivity or Intolerance and a Gluten Allergy?gluten sensitivity or allergy?

Gluten Sensitivity is different from a Gluten Allergy.  Hopefully these descriptions will help clear up some of the confusion.

Celiac Disease is a genetic, autoimmune disorder that occurs in reaction to the ingestion of gluten.  Symptoms include: gastrointestinal symptoms such as cramping, diarrhea and constipation, as well as symptoms in other parts of the body such as bone or joint pain, headaches, or fatigue, to name a few.

To develop celiac disease a person must inherit the genetic predisposition, be consuming gluten, and have the disease activated.  Activation triggers may include stress, trauma (surgeries, etc.) and possibly viral infections.

The reaction to gluten causes villous atrophy or flattening of the cells lining the small intestine, which can lead to malabsorption of nutrients and related health issues.  There are over 200 identified symptoms of CD, which  include those listed above as well as anemia, behavioral changes, stunted growth and infertility. Dermatitis herpetiformis is celiac disease that manifests as a skin rash. The rate of CD is higher among relatives of those who are diagnosed, but anyone with the genetic predisposition can develop celiac disease at any age. Currently it is estimated that about 1% of the population has celiac disease, although 83% of those people are still undiagnosed. While research continues to work towards pharmaceutical or other treatments, at this time the only treatment for celiac disease is to maintain a gluten-free diet for life.

Diagnosis:  blood test and intestinal biopsy

Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS), also referred to as gluten sensitivity (GS) or non-celiac wheat sensitivity (NCWS), is not well defined and can produce many of the same and severe symptoms as those with Celiac Disease.  (Symptoms included diarrhea, stomach upset, abdominal pain, bloating fatigues, headache, as well as symptoms in other parts of the body such as bone or joint pain, headaches, or fatigue, to name a few.)

It is not an immunoglobulin E (IgE) (as with wheat allergy, see below) nor autoimmune reaction (as with CD, see above). NCGS may have an innate immune component, but this has not been firmly established. There are no tests or biomarkers to identify NCGS. Since NCGS is not well understood it is still not clear whether other components of gluten-containing grains may be involved in causing symptoms, at least in some cases. In order for gluten sensitivity to be diagnosed, it is first necessary to rule out CD, wheat allergy or other possible causes of symptoms. Then, if improvement is seen when following a gluten-free diet, gluten sensitivity may be diagnosed. Adherence to a gluten-free diet is the only treatment for NCGS at this time.

Diagnosis: Rule out

Wheat allergy is an immune reaction to any of the hundreds of proteins in wheat. When a person has a wheat allergy, one type of white blood cells, called B-cells, send out immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies to “attack” the wheat.  At the same time, local tissues in the body send out natural chemical messengers to alert the rest of the body that there is a problem. This reaction happens very fast (within minutes to a few hours) and can involve a range of symptoms from nausea, abdominal pain, itching, swelling of the lips and tongue, to trouble breathing, or anaphylaxis (a life-threatening reaction). A person with a wheat allergy must avoid eating any form of wheat, but does not have trouble tolerating gluten from non-wheat sources. (It is possible for a person to be both allergic to wheat and have CD or NCGS.) In the United States, wheat is one of the eight most common foods to which people are allergic. Children who are allergic to wheat may out-grow the allergy, but adults with an allergy to wheat usually have it for life. The only treatment is a wheat-free diet.

Diagnosis: RAST or Skin Pick test

Treatment for Gluten Intolerance / Sensitivity, Wheat Allergy and Celiac Disease

All 3 require the same treatment – AVOIDANCE of GLUTEN.  Going Gluten free may not be as easy as it seems.   Gluten can be a hidden ingredient in some of your favorite foods.  Gluten containing food.

But going Gluten free doesn’t mean you need to deprive yourself of wonderful tasting food.   We have some great gluten free recipes.