Gluten Sensitivity vs. Celiac Disease

Many people experience digestive problems caused by eating gluten.  Gluten is a protein in wheat, barely, and rye.  Do you ever experience symptoms after eating gluten containing foods like bread or pasta and wonder if you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity?  Although the two conditions share similar symptoms, there are distinct differences in the way a person’s body reacts to gluten.

What is Celiac Disease?

According to the Celiac Disease Center at the University of Chicago 1 in 133 people have Celiac Disease.  Celiac disease is a genetic digestive autoimmune disorder that causes individuals to negatively respond to gluten.  Gluten triggers immune responses and overtime, the small intestine’s lining becomes damaged.  Without proper treatment, those with celiac disease may suffer from malabsorption as the small intestine will not be able to absorb nutrients into the bloodstream due to damage of the lining.  

Symptoms of Celiac Disease

  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Weight loss
  • Constipation
  • Vomiting

Non-digestive symptoms

  • Bone or joint pain
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Headaches

Since the symptoms of Celiac Disease are wide-ranging and similar to those of other disorders such as lactose intolerance and IBS, the disease may be tough to identify.  The first step is to have your doctor run a blood test which may be then followed by other diagnostic tests.  A blood test cannot confirm a diagnosis of Celiac Disease, but it can reveal the presence of immunoglobulin E antibodies (IgE) which would suggest some kind of autoimmune or allergic reaction to gluten.  If there is a positive result for IgE antibodies, your doctor may recommend and endoscopy to check the small intestine for damage.  There is no cure other than eliminating gluten entirely.

What is Gluten Sensitivity?

Gluten sensitivity, also known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), and like celiac disease, NCGS involves an adverse physical reaction to gluten and shares similar symptoms (listed above).  Gluten sensitivity is less understood by doctors than Celiac Disease.  There is no specific test to diagnose NCGS however it is diagnosed in those who experience symptoms after eating gluten but test negative for celiac disease.  Unlike Celiac Disease, NCGS does not damage the small intestine.  Treatment for NCGS is identical to CD.  In order to feel better, eliminating gluten from your diet is necessary.

Final Thoughts

If you aren’t experiencing symptoms when you eat gluten but want to cut them out of your diet, it’s best to chat with a Registered Dietitian first.  While there are articles out there stating removing gluten from your diet will help you lose weight, there is not much scientific evidence showing that eliminating gluten will actually help you lose weight.  Gluten contains valuable nutrients like fiber, iron, and calcium that are vital for your health.  Going gluten-free can be pretty pricey too!

If you experience these symptoms and are concerned that you may have Celiac Disease or NCGS it is best to reach out to your healthcare provider.  They will be able to pinpoint what ails you and refer you to the appropriate specialist to begin treatment.  

As Celiac Disease and NCGS becomes more prevalent, companies are producing more gluten free foods.  It will be tough eliminating gluten from your diet as you will find a lot of your favorite foods contain gluten, however you might be able to find their gluten free counterparts!

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