According to Medical News Today, “Gluten is a family of proteins found in grains like wheat, rye, spelt, and barley.” Choosing to follow a gluten-free diet has become quite popular and is not going away anytime soon.
Whether you suffer from a gluten sensitivity or you are diagnosed with celiac disease, eating a gluten-free diet appeals people worldwide, with many of those individuals classified as “people without celiac disease avoiding gluten.” However, celiac disease is a serious condition for which there is no cure. The only way to alleviate the symptoms of celiac disease is to completely eliminate gluten from the diet.
In an effort to raise awareness about this condition, May has been designated as Celiac Awareness Month. Along with highlighting the symptoms associated celiac disease, it’s important to understand the symptoms and differences between celiac disease, being gluten-sensitive, and having a wheat allergy in order to know how to manage each of these conditions.
Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disorder that occurs when the ingestion of gluten damages the small intestine. It’s estimated that two and one-half million Americans are undiagnosed with celiac disease and are at risk for long-term health complications.
When people with celiac disease eat gluten, their bodies mount an immune response that attacks the small intestine. These attacks damage the villi, which are small fingerlike projections that line the small intestine and promote nutrient absorption. When the villi get damaged, nutrients can’t be absorbed properly into the body.
Celiac disease is hereditary; therefore, people with a first-degree relative with celiac disease (a parent, child, or sibling) have a 10 percent risk of developing celiac disease.
The terms “gluten sensitivity” and “gluten intolerance” have been used interchangeably in the past. However, top celiac disease researchers wanted to implement a standard way of speaking about celiac disease and other gluten-related disorders. In 2012, researchers determined that gluten sensitivity, not gluten intolerance, is the most accurate way to refer to the condition.
Once a test comes back ruling out the presence of celiac disease, but individuals continue to suffer from symptoms that seem related to gluten, it may be possible they have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, more commonly referred to as “gluten sensitivity.” Symptoms of gluten sensitivity include bloating, diarrhea or constipation, nausea, headache, and joint pain.
Research estimates that six percent of Americans have gluten sensitivity, which is considerably more Americans than have celiac disease, which is estimated at one percent. Gluten sensitivity is similar to celiac disease in that people cannot tolerate gluten and experience symptoms similar to those who have celiac disease, but they don’t experience the immune response and damage to the intestine.
Wheat allergy is a common childhood allergy, but it can also affect adults. As with any allergy, an immune reaction occurs when the food containing gluten is ingested. A mild allergic reaction may lead to nasal congestion and discomfort, while a severe reaction includes potentially life-threatening anaphylactic shock. In any case, a person who has an allergic reaction to wheat should be taken seriously and seek medical attention.
A diagnosis distinguishing between celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and wheat allergy is important. Your doctor can run the laboratory tests needed to determine celiac disease.
Be sure to follow the doctor’s instructions before the tests to ensure an accurate diagnosis. Once your doctor gets the results, you can find out whether you suffer from celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or wheat allergy and take the steps needed to address the disorder.