What is Gluten Intolerance?

Gluten sensitivity or intolerance is a condition that causes a person to react after ingesting gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.

Symptoms vary widely and can include gastrointestinal problems, joint pain, fatigue and depression. The same symptoms are associated with celiac disease, so it’s important to get the correct diagnosis.

According to the experts, gluten-sensitivity should only be diagnosed after first ruling out wheat allergies, celiac disease and gluten ataxia, using blood and other tests that can pinpoint those recognized disorders. Second, diagnosis should include testing for AGA antibodies in the blood, though these are not always present. Third there should be improvement in symptoms on a gluten-free diet.

Though researchers are looking for bio-markers that would definitively diagnose gluten intolerance, they have not yet come up with a specific test. Still gluten intolerance has been recognized as a real condition, after many years of being ignored by the medical community. In fact, gluten sensitivity has its own category in a list of gluten-related disorders recently created by a group of international celiac disease experts.

Scientists from the Center for Celiac Research have also found that gluten sensitivity is a bona fide condition, distinct from celiac disease, with its own intestinal response to gluten. Although gluten sensitive patients have the diarrhea, abdominal pain and other symptoms suffered by those with celiac disease, they do not have the intestinal inflammation, flattening of the absorbing villi or long-term damage to small intestine that characterizes untreated celiac disease.

Researchers found differences between celiac disease and gluten sensitivity in intestinal permeability and genes regulating the immune response in the gut. (Intestinal permeability is the ability of the mucosal layer of the digestive tract to prevent bacteria, antigens, and undigested food proteins from seeping through the gastro-intestinal barrier. Those who have celiac disease often have a high degree of permeability, sometimes called a leaky gut, but the study found that was not the case in those who are gluten sensitive.)

Currently, the only treatment for gluten intolerance is following a gluten-free diet, which excludes all wheat, barley, rye and cross-contaminated oats.

About six percent of the US population, or about 18 million people, have gluten sensitivity, according to the celiac center, compared to 1 percent who have celiac disease.

This material is not intended to provide medical advice, which should be obtained directly from a physician.