It’s not unusual these days to hear people say they have a gluten allergy or sensitivity. However, there’s no such thing as a gluten allergy. Most gluten reactions don’t involve true allergic reactions. So, why do people say they have a gluten allergy? Mainly because they know they are sensitive to gluten, and their body reacts to it. They’re using the term as shorthand for one of the recognized conditions that cause the immune system to react to gluten. Here are the five conditions, that for lack of a better way to say it, involve levels of gluten sensitivity.
Gluten and Celiac Disease
Celiac disease may be the most well-known condition that causes a reaction to gluten. This condition is a serious autoimmune disorder. The exact cause of celiac disease isn’t known, although it is thought to be a combination of genetics and eating food that contains gluten. Although there is a genetic component, it often becomes active after surgery, pregnancy, childbirth, viral infection, or emotional stress.
If you have the condition and eat gluten, your body responds by attacking the lining of your small intestines and eventually eating away at them. Nearly 1% of Americans have celiac disease. The only current treatment for the condition is to avoid food with gluten.
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity or Intolerance
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity refers to a condition that isn’t celiac disease but does cause nasty symptoms in people when they eat products that contain gluten. This is probably how the “gluten allergy” terminology began.
There’s no real way to diagnose non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Therefore there is no accurate way to find out how many people have it. But once a way of diagnosing it is developed, we may find out more people are suffering from “gluten allergy” than celiac disease. The only way to treat the condition is to avoid consuming gluten completely. A blood test is currently the only way to know for sure if you have Celiac disease or Non-Celiac gluten intolerance.
Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity Symptoms
- Diarrhea and constipation
- Abdominal pain
- Joint and muscle pain
- Depression or anxiety
If you think it’s getting a little confusing right now, you’re not wrong. The term gluten intolerance has been used interchangeably with the other terms. People would say they had gluten intolerance when they tested negative for celiac but still had reactions to gluten.
In some instances, “gluten intolerance” has been used to refer to “celiac disease,” which makes things more confusing. But researches and clinicians are generally using the term “non-celiac gluten intolerance,” as mentioned above, rather than “gluten intolerance.” In time, the term “gluten intolerance” will probably stop being used. But until then, these two terms mean the same thing.
Dermatitis is a fancy word dermatologist use to refer to skin conditions such as rashes, reddened skin, and other symptoms. Dermatitis herpetiformis is a red, extremely itchy skin rash that happens when people with a sensitivity eat gluten. This is probably another of the reasons for the “gluten allergy” myth. Most people connect rashes with allergies, so it’s easy to see why. Like celiac disease and non-celiac gluten intolerance, dermatitis herpetiformis is an autoimmune condition triggered by consuming gluten.
If you’ve been diagnosed with herpetiformis and had positive celiac disease blood tests, you’re considered to have celiac disease. But, even if you don’t have a diagnosis of celiac and you do have one occurrence of dermatitis herpetiformis, you need to avoid gluten to keep the rash under control.
This autoimmune condition involves your immune system attacking your brain and neurological system when you eat foods with gluten in them. This very rare condition falls under the “gluten allergy” canopy. When someone has gluten ataxia, the antibodies released when they digest gluten begin to attack the part of the brain called the cerebellum, located in the back of the head above the neck. The cerebellum controls balance, speech, posture, walking, and running.
The symptoms are mild, to begin with, and gradually worsen over time. People who suffer from gluten ataxia must follow a completely gluten-free diet in order to avoid neurological damage.
And Then There’s Wheat Allergy
A wheat allergy is a true allergy, and, of course, is sometimes referred to as a “gluten allergy.” The allergic reaction generally involves more parts of the wheat than just the gluten protein. This allergy is more common in children than adults and is typically outgrown by adulthood. People who are allergic to wheat can usually eat other grains, regardless of if they contain gluten. People who have celiac or non-celiac gluten intolerance cannot eat those grains. They are often sensitive to the smallest amounts of gluten. This is why you will see the warnings on products that have been produced in facilities that also produce products with gluten, even if they don’t technically contain gluten.
Wheat Allergy Symptoms
- Skin rash or hives
- Vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, and indigestion
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Anaphylaxis (rare), a complication that can impair breathing
It’s easy to see some of the confusion when these conditions have some of the same symptoms.
Whatever your level of gluten sensitivity, you don’t have to give up flavor when you give up gluten. At Bolay, we get you. We understand your dietary needs and your need for fresh, flavorful dishes. You don’t have to feel like you are missing out. Order online or come into Bolay for a bol full of 100% gluten-free, nutrient-rich ingredients.