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Is Gluten Intolerance the same as Celiac Disease?


Celiac. Gluten-free. G-free.

You’ve probably heard these terms in the media recently. Gluten-free foods are popping up everywhere and more and more stars are starting to live a gluten free lifestyle. It seems as though the media has glamorized gluten-free living as the latest trend when, in reality, those who have gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease have to live gluten free to stay healthy.

Before I jump into common signs and symptoms of gluten sensitivity I want to make sure you have a clear understanding of the difference between gluten sensitivity and Celiac disease. Gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance describes a health problem or symptoms that occur with gluten as the cause. Celiac disease is an auto immune disorder where the villi in the small intestine are damaged. Below is a chart from the Wall Street Journal with a good description of the difference between the two. Wheat allergies are also listed on this chart as those are sometimes lumped together in the “gluten group.”

against the grainPeople who are gluten intolerant and people who have Celiac disease are both sensitive to gluten and often have similar symptoms. The biggest difference between the two is that those who have Celiac disease have damage to the villi of the small intestine. Those who are simply (or not so simply) gluten intolerant do not have the intestinal damage. A little confusing, right? This might explain why receiving a diagnosis of Celiac disease can be so difficult. This post will focus on gluten sensitivity and the issues that surround it but if you are interested in reading more about Celiac disease, check out our Celiac blog post!

The “G” Word

Gluten can be a problem for many people. So what is it exactly? Gluten is a protein that is found in foods processed from wheat. It is also present in barley, rye and triticale. Gluten can also be found in a variety of products that you might not expect. For example, gluten can be found in chocolate, beer, deli meat, vitamins and toothpastes!

Gluten is a glue-like substance that is responsible for giving wheat and other products a chewy texture.

Gluten Intolerance

Gluten intolerance or sensitivity refers to a person’s negative reaction to gluten. The symptoms of gluten sensitivity can vary greatly which can make it difficult to diagnose gluten sensitivity. Symptoms can range from gastrointestinal issues to behavioral issues to something as common as joint pain. Common symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Cramping
  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Foggy mind feeling
  • Depression
  • ADHD-like behavior
  • Anemia
  • Joint Pain
  • Leg Numbness

Gluten sensitivity can vary in severity. If you think you might be gluten sensitive it is important to talk to your doctor to make sure you can rule out Celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome or any other intestinal inflammation problem. Undiagnosed Celiac disease can have long-term complications so you will want to be tested to rule out Celiac disease. Make sure that you do not alter your diet before you get tested. If you are eating gluten-free for a while before your Celiac testing you could receive a false negative.

Unfortunately there is no test to determine if you are gluten sensitive. If you notice you have any of the symptoms listed above try eliminating gluten from your diet. If your symptoms improve then it’s likely you are gluten intolerant. If your symptoms do not improve there might be something else causing your symptoms.

If you’re confused about what is and isn’t gluten-free check out this list from the Mayo Clinic. It can help make navigating the gluten-free world a little easier.

Are you gluten intolerant? When did you find out? Leave a comment below with your story!