Part 2: What is gluten intolerance anyways?

Gluten intolerance can be a tricky thing to diagnose. When I discuss the issue with people, I often hear, "Oh, yeah. My friend's daughter is celiac. She throws up immediately when she eats anything with gluten in it...is that what you're talking about?"

So what is gluten intolerance?

According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, as many as 18 million Americans may have non-celiac gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance. Unlike celiac disease, gluten intolerance doesn't damage the intestine and there's no accepted medical test for diagnosis. However, according to Melinda Dennis, RD, co-author of Real Life with Celiac Disease and nutrition coordinator of the Celiac Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, people with gluten sensitivity may experience symptoms just as severe as those of celiac disease.

So what is the difference between gluten intolerance and celiac disease? According to Gluten.org, gluten intolerance or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), is not well defined. It is not an immunoglobulin E (IgE) nor autoimmune reaction (as with CD, see above). There are no tests or biomarkers to identify GS and it is still not well understood. Reactions can begin up to 48 hours after ingesting gluten and last for much longer. Gluten intolerance symptoms include diarrhea, stomach upset, abdominal pain, and bloating after ingesting gluten.

They go on to define celiac disease (CD) as a genetic, autoimmune disorder that occurs in reaction to the ingestion of gluten in genetically susceptible individuals. The reaction to gluten causes villous atrophy or flattening of the cells lining the small intestine, which can lead to malabsorption of nutrients with wide-reaching symptoms.

What do you do if you think you have a gluten intolerance?

If you've noticed the previously mentioned symptoms after ingesting gluten you should get tested. To diagnose gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity, it is first necessary to rule out celiac disease, wheat allergy, or other possible causes of symptoms. Appropriate testing should be done before jumping to the conclusion that you have a gluten intolerance or are gluten sensitive. According to Dr. Stefano Guandalini, director of the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, if you remove gluten prior to being tested, your immune system may no longer be making the antibodies the tests will look for.

If you think you might have a gluten intolerance, I would encourage you to get tested. If you do have a gluten intolerance, unfortunately the only way to currently treat the condition is to completely remove gluten from your diet. But you will see the affects of a gluten-free diet. Since removing gluten from my diet I no longer experience the bloat I once did. I also don't experience the brain fog I once had. I can think so much more clearly and concentration is so much easier now.

However, one of the misconceptions of a gluten-free diet is that it's a way of losing weight. Gluten-free food isn't necessarily any healthier than food with gluten. Just because a food is GF, the nutritional content should still be considered. Junk food is junk food even if it's GF.