It’s hard not to notice the range of gluten-free products that have popped up on grocery shelves. Even a number of pet food manufacturers have gotten on board with the gluten-free craze. Many people take the popularity of these foods to mean that eating gluten-free is a good choice for everyone. Nutritionists advise against following a gluten-free diet unless it is medically necessary. Although the conditions differ, people with celiac disease or wheat sensitivity need to eliminate gluten from their diet.
Celiac Disease Versus Wheat Sensitivity
Celiac disease (CD) is an autoimmune disorder that is inherited. People who develop the disorder are born with a predisposition. They may, or may not, develop symptoms when they are exposed to certain triggers. These triggers include surgery, illness such as viral infections, and stress. The person must also consume gluten before they will experience symptoms. Some people with CD never experience symptoms while others have them early in childhood. The difference in symptoms and when they occur makes it more difficult to diagnose celiac disease in some people.
The body recognizes gluten as a foreign substance and attacks it. This response causes the small intestine to become inflamed and leads to the destruction of villi which line the intestinal wall. The villi normally aid in the absorption of nutrients and fluids into the body. When they are destroyed, the person no longer gets the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients they need to stay healthy.
The digestive symptoms of celiac disease include bloating, swelling of the abdomen, chronic diarrhea, nausea, gas, constipation, and stomach pain. Children are more likely to experience digestive symptoms than adults. Anyone who experiences digestive symptoms can develop malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies. In children, failing to absorb the essential nutrients interferes with their ability to grow and develop.
Adults with celiac disease are more likely to become anemic, have bone or joint pain, experience depression or anxiety, have headaches, and have any of a number of other potential symptoms. When adults do experience digestive symptoms, they might include intestinal blockages, fatigue, and ulcers in the stomach or intestine.
How Do You Test for Celiac Disease?
The tTG-IgA blood test is the most common test for celiac disease. The test detects antibodies in the blood that are only present with the disorder. When the test is negative, other tests might be used to confirm the diagnosis. Sometimes patients get a negative response on one test but have a positive diagnosis on another. Once diagnosed, the only treatment for celiac disease is to follow a life-long gluten-free diet. Gluten is found in some grains, including wheat, barley, rye, and oats. Some grains, including corn, rice, and millet are gluten-free.
People with celiac disease have a much easier time following a gluten-free diet than they used to. Reading product labels hasn’t always been as straightforward. For example, spelt, farro, kamut, and durum are varieties of wheat that you might not recognize. Today, there are many products labeled as gluten-free.
How Is Wheat Sensitivity Different?
For years, doctors have been confused by some people’s immune responses to gluten even after they tested negative for celiac disease and for wheat allergies. Non-celiac wheat sensitivity has begun to emerge as a potential reason for people to experience celiac-like symptoms when there is no evidence they have it.
Wheat sensitivity is often referred to as non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Increasingly, experts are beginning to think gluten isn’t the cause of sensitivity at all. They suspect that other ingredients in wheat, such as oligo-, di- and monosaccharides, along with polyols are the cause of non-celiac sensitivity.
Wheat sensitivity produces many of the same symptoms as celiac disease, but it doesn’t cause an immune response. It also doesn’t do damage to the intestine and cause permanent damage that celiac sometimes does.
How Do You Test for Wheat Sensitivity?
No test exists right now for non-celiac wheat sensitivity. The first step is to rule out celiac disease before determining the best approach to treatment. One problem is that many people are taking the steps to reduce or eliminate gluten from their diets without being diagnosed. If they’ve been on a gluten-free diet for a while, their antibody test will show negative even if they really have celiac disease. This puts them at risk from damage to their intestine that needs to be treated.
If a doctor suspects celiac disease based on the person’s history of symptoms, he may recommend performing a colonoscopy. This allows the doctor to see if there is damage to the intestine or if it has healed. In some people, a gluten-free diet isn’t enough to treat the intestinal damage. A diagnosis is important to rule out celiac disease before treating wheat sensitivity. Otherwise, serious conditions can arise from the disorder. If you have symptoms of celiac disease, contact GI Associates to schedule an appointment today. Do not self-diagnose your condition or that of your child’s. We also offer pediatric services for children with celiac disease.