Difference between Gluten Intolerance, Gluten Sensitivity and Wheat Allergy.

January 23, 2012

It is very important to define the difference between Gluten Intolerance, Gluten Sensitivity and Wheat Allergy.

First of all, it does not matter which one of the 3 terms you want to refer to, they are all related. They key word would be “gluten” which is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. The protein gluten when digested can cause an adverse reaction to the digestive system. One of the worst reactions can lead to Celiac Disease.

Gluten intolerance simply means that the digestive system is unable to completely break down the protein gluten. The digestive system will not absorb the protein due to the lack of the proper digestive enzymes. Therefore, the inability of breaking down the digestive enzymes will cause the body to show different symptoms. There are no specific symptoms that but obviously a typical one would stomach cramping, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, fatigue, etc.

Gluten intolerance can be separated into 3 categories:

  1. Gluten Intolerance in Celiac Disease (CD). This is where the protein gluten (gliadin and glutenin) does more damage. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder of the small intestines. An autoimmune disorder means that when the protein gluten is found in the intestines, it attacks itself rather than the body fights the protein. If a person is unaware of the gluten intolerance, it could lead the elimination of the villi lining which is found in the small intestine (villous atrophy.)
  2. Gluten Intolerance in Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS). It is also called Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity. In this category, the protein gluten has a negative effect on the body. It is a non-autoimmune and a non-allergic condition. It is very complicated to distinguish between celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. The symptoms for both are almost the same. Blood tests with people with NCGS normally come back negative for celiac disease.  According to researchers, approximately 6% of the population is affected by gluten sensitivity. One of the pioneers in gluten sensitivity research is the lead investigator at the University Of Maryland School Of Medicine, Alessio Fasano, M.D. states that they found differences in the levels of intestinal expression and permeability of the genes that regulate the immune response “in the gut mucosa” which is one of the 4 coats of the intestinal wall found in the innermost of the intestines. Gluten sensitivity also present similar symptoms as celiac such as diarrhea, bloating, abdominal discomfort, stomach pains, etc. TREATMENT: Unlike celiac disease, besides going on a gluten-free diet, physician can prescribe medications. This could be a temporary condition. On the contrary, Celiac disease is a lifelong condition.
  3. Gluten Intolerance in Wheat Allergy (WA). This is basically an allergy to wheat. Therefore if someone is allergic to wheat, obviously, the digestive system cannot tolerate digesting one or more proteins found in wheat. The proteins found in wheat are: albumin, gliadin, globulin, and glutein (gluten.) According to researchers, most wheat allergic reactions are caused by the proteins albumin and globulin. Having a wheat allergy is similar to having an allergy to peanuts. In this case, when the someone digests wheat, the body creates E (IgE) immunoglobulin  antibodies to the food. Along with these antibodies, histamine is released. The symptoms can vary; some people can experience stomach pains, hives, etc. Wheat allergies are classified under a Type 1 Hypersensitivity. Also, this could be a temporary condition.
 

In summary, celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder, not an allergy, which means that the body attacks itself when the protein gluten is found in the digestive system. Gluten sensitivity and wheat allergy can be treated with either, going with a gluten-free diet or a prescribed medication. All three categories required an immediate gluten-free diet.

I would recommend that if you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, get a good book or gluten-free diet eBook written by people that are already coping with the disease. It will help maintain a healthy gluten-free diet.

 Resources:

  • University of Maryland School of Medicine, News from the Center for Celiac Research. March 10, 2011.
  • Webmd, Celiac Disease Health Center, Going gluten-free
  • NFCA Celiac Central.
  • Wikipedia/gluten Sensitivity.

4 thoughts on “Difference between Gluten Intolerance, Gluten Sensitivity and Wheat Allergy.

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