Celiac Disease vs. Gluten Sensitivity?

 Celiac Disease vs. Gluten Sensitivity? Photo A decade or two ago, chances are you had never heard of gluten, which is the the protein found in wheat, barley and rye. While it was there are all along in our foods, it didn’t grab a whole lot of headlines, and there weren’t many restaurants boasting gluten-free selections on their menus.

Today, chances are you know someone who follows a gluten-free diet and see your grocery store shelves lined with gluten-free products. The reasons why so many people eliminate gluten from their diet these days, however, vary. Some see it as simply a weight-loss strategy, while others suffer from a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease. So what’s the difference?

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which people with can’t digest gluten safely. If they eat it, their immune system will attack their small intestine. Immediate effects can include everything from gas, bloating and diarrhea to fatigue and behavior problems; long-term effects can be much more serious. If not identified and treated, celiac disease can lead to everything from anemia and infertility to gallbladder problems and cancer. Even a small amount can do damage.

It’s estimated that 1 in 133 people in the United States suffer from celiac disease, and reports suggest its occurrence is increasing. It can affect people of all ages and races.

It can be difficult to diagnose as symptoms present differently in individuals. In fact, it takes an average of 6-10 years from the time symptoms begin until celiac disease is diagnosed. Diagnosis is usually determined by blood tests, a small intestine biopsy and a gluten-elimination test. The only treatment for celiac disease is a lifelong, gluten-free diet.

Gluten Sensitivity

It’s estimated that approximately 18 million people have a non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which is six times more than the number of people who have celiac disease in the United States. A non-celiac gluten sensitivity often comes with some of the same symptoms as celiac disease, but there also may be other symptoms like “foggy mind,” joint pain or headaches that appear a couple of hours or days after eating gluten.

The big difference between a gluten sensitivity and celiac disease, however, is that with a gluten sensitivity, gluten doesn’t do the same kind of intestinal damage as celiac disease. There is no blood test; diagnosis typically comes after patients eliminate gluten from their diet and see symptoms disappear. It’s also important to rule out celiac disease. As with celiac disease, the only treatment for a gluten sensitivity is to adopt a gluten-free diet.

Wheat Allergy

Another related condition is a wheat allergy. In this case, the reaction to the proteins in the wheat causes a very rapid and potentially deadly set of symptoms that range from nausea and the swelling of the tongue to rashes and anaphylaxis. An allergist will typically diagnose a wheat allergy with a blood or skin-prick test.

The good news in all of these cases is that eating gluten-free is easier today than ever. There are an abundance of delicious pre-packaged foods, and increased awareness has made most restaurants extremely accommodating.