You’ve probably noticed that you’re hearing more and more about gluten these days; gluten-free products are popping up in grocery store displays and most restaurants now offer gluten-free options for their patrons. If you don’t avoid gluten yourself, you probably know someone who practices a gluten-free diet. Public awareness of Celiac disease and gluten intolerance has increased tremendously in recent years, resulting in a rise in the number of cases that are diagnosed. People who have Celiac disease or gluten intolerance must avoid gluten, which is a protein naturally found in wheat, rye, and barley.
But is this the same as having a wheat allergy? The answer is no! Food intolerances and food allergies can share some of the same symptoms, but it is very important to distinguish between an intolerance and an allergy. While eating foods that you are intolerant to can make you feel very sick, eating food that you are truly allergic to can result in life-threatening consequences. Treatment for all three of these disorders involves completely removing the offending food from the diet. For Celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity, this means avoiding wheat, rye, barley and all products made from those grains. For a wheat allergy, all forms of wheat and foods containing wheat must be avoided. Read on for Dr. Foodle’s in-depth look at the three conditions:
Celiac disease (CD) is not an allergy; rather, it is a genetic autoimmune disorder that causes a reaction in the cells that line the small intestine when gluten is ingested. The reaction to gluten causes the cells to atrophy and flatten, which leads to malabsorption of nutrients and a wide array of symptoms associated with the lost nutrients. There are more than 300 symptoms associated with CD, including anemia, stunted growth, infertility, skin rash, and gastrointestinal issues such as cramps and diarrhea. It is estimated that around 1% of the population has CD, but many of those people remain undiagnosed. Diagnosis of CD involves blood tests and small intestine biopsy, along with testing to see if a gluten-free diet causes improvement in symptoms.
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), or simply gluten sensitivity (GS), is a condition that is not yet well understood. Scientists know that it is different from celiac disease, yet there are no tests that can identify GS. Diagnosing this condition involves first ruling out celiac disease and wheat allergy. If you do not have either of those conditions, then following a gluten-free diet and watching for improvement in symptoms will determine if it is NCGS.
A true wheat allergy is an immune reaction to any of the different proteins in wheat. The immune reaction causes white blood cells (T-cells) in the body to release antibodies (immunoglobulin E or IgE antibodies) to attack the proteins. Chemical messengers are also released, alerting the body that something is wrong. This causes a reaction that can include symptoms like nausea, abdominal pain, itching, swelling of the lips and tongue, and anaphylaxis, which is life-threatening. Someone with a wheat allergy must avoid all forms of wheat, but does not have an issue with gluten from non-wheat sources such as rye and barley. It’s important to be an informed labelreader when you have an allergy to wheat, as it can pop up in unexpected places such as soups, salad dressings, and processed meats.
Dr. Foodle wants to know: do you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity? Do you know someone who does? Share your experiences in the comments below!
“Celiac Disease, Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity or Wheat Allergy: What Is the Difference? – The Gluten Intolerance Group of North America.”The Gluten Intolerance Group of North America. The Gluten Intolerance Group of North America, 29 Feb. 2016. Web.
“Food Allergy: MedlinePlus.” U.S National Library of Medicine.U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 06 June 2016.
Pongdee, T. 2014. Food allergy versus food intolerance. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma &Immunology .https://www.aaaai.org/Aaaai/media/MediaLibrary/PDF%20Documents/Libraries/EL-food-allergies-vs-intolerance-patient.pdf