Celiac.com 05/14/2012 - Should gluten sensitivity be thought of as “celiac light,” as just one of the milder manifestations within the wider spectrum of celiac disease? Some doctors and researchers think so.

Photo: CC--Joe MabelOver the past several years, there has been increasing discussion concerning gluten sensitivity as a possible cause of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms in patients for whom celiac disease has been excluded. 

This is undoubtedly because gluten sensitivity, like IBS, is a symptom-based condition of diverse pathogenesis. As discussed, some have argued that gluten sensitivity might be best thought of as “celiac light,” representing the milder domains of the celiac disease spectrum.

However, there are some data to suggest that a subset of patients with gluten sensitivity may actually belong to the spectrum of celiac disease.

In a recent letter to the editors of the American Journal of Gastroenterology, doctors Courtney C. Ferch and William D. Chey of the Division of Gastroenterology at the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor, Michigan, comment at length on the latest findings regarding Irritable Bowel Syndrome and gluten sensitivity without celiac disease.

Ferch and Chey note that gluten sensitivity is one of the most rapidly growing sectors in the food industry, with gluten-free products accounting for $1.31 billion in U.S. sales alone in 2011. Those sales are expected to exceed $1.6 billion by 2015.

Major food manufacturers such as General Mills and Betty Crocker, along with popular restaurant chains like PF Chang's and Subway are busy introducing new gluten-free options, or retooling original products into gluten-free versions.

People with gluten sensitivity typically show symptoms after eating gluten, but show no evidence of celiac disease or food allergy.

Unlike celiac disease, there are no accepted biomarkers for gluten-sensitivity. Doctors diagnose the condition mainly by looking at the connection between eating gluten and the presence adverse symptoms.

Numerous studies on gluten sensitivity suffer have included small sample size, a lack of adequate controls, a lack of blinding, and the use of non-validated outcome measures. Even with these limitations, Ferch and Chey say there are several studies worthy of further consideration.

One of the studies discussed in the Ferch and Chey was a double-blind, placebo-controlled, dietary re-challenge trial performed by Biesiekierski et al. The study sought to better understand the role of gluten ingestion in the development of gastrointestinal (GI) and non-GI symptoms in patients diagnosed with IBS.

The Biesiekierski study included a sample of 34 patients diagnosed with IBS by the Rome III criteria who had experienced symptom improvement with a gluten-free diet for 6 weeks before study enrollment. Celiac disease had been excluded in all study participants by either a negative HLADQ2/HLA-DQ8 haplotype or a normal duodenal