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Celiac Disease vs. Gluten Sensitivity or Gluten Intolerance

Celiac.com 11/13/2012 - Going gluten-free seems to be the newest dietary trend that many people are following, even if it is not mandatory for one’s health. This trend was brought on by an increased number of cases of celiac disease, and gluten sensitivity, also referred to as gluten intolerance. Both diagnoses come with the recommendation of avoiding gluten-containing foods (wheat, rye, barley), however both are different in the way the body is affected.

Photo: CC--Andy GCeliac disease, also known as gluten sensitive enteropathy, is an autoimmune disease that affects the small intestine causing it to become inflamed when gluten is digested. The immune system then generates an abnormal response to gluten and attacks its own intestinal tissue.  This leads to the wasting away of the villi that line the small intestine, malabsorption of nutrients and thus malnutrition. Symptoms may include anemia, osteopenia, lactase deficiency, diarrhea, constipation, delayed growth, and weight loss due to malabsorption of nutrients. Other symptoms that may present are arthritis, dermatitis, infertility, muscle weakness, and constant fatigue. A series of tests and evaluations are performed including an examination of one’s family history as genetic predisposition is common, blood tests, and the final confirmation of an intestinal biopsy. Once confirmed a strict adherence to a gluten free diet is necessary.

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is often interchanged with gluten intolerance. There are cases where symptoms are less severe, which may be considered gluten sensitivity, whereas severe cases would be labeled as gluten intolerance due to the intensity and length of time symptoms last. Gluten sensitivity differs from celiac disease in that the body views gluten as an invader causing a direct response in the form of inflammation inside and outside of the digestive tract, and with this disorder one's own tissue (lining of small intestine) is not attacked, as we see with celiac disease. Once gluten is removed from the body, the inflammation goes away unlike the symptoms associated with celiac disease. Symptoms include bloating, abdominal discomfort, and diarrhea due to the inflammation of the digestive tract. Headaches, lethargy, attention-deficit disorder, hyperactivity, muscle weakness/disturbances and joint pain may present as well. Tests performed for a diagnosis of celiac disease are usually done with the findings not showing the indicators necessary, leading to a trial gluten-free diet. With the diet, symptoms will disappear, and a diagnosis of gluten sensitivity will be given.

Unfortunately celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are becoming increasingly prevalent. Thus it is important to know how each diagnosis affects the body, and the reasons for being put on a gluten free diet. With more research being done, there may soon be more answers as to why more cases continue to emerge.

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25 Responses:

 
Brenda Llanas
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said this on
10 Dec 2012 8:20:38 PM PST
Thank you for this site. Since I am relatively new at this, help is needed. There are so many good articles and recipes that choosing what to peruse first is a little bit difficult, but doable.

 
Suzanne
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said this on
22 Dec 2012 9:12:55 PM PST
I agree completely. Such a wealth of information is almost overwhelming, but in a good way. It's so nice to find answers.

 
Tammy
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said this on
05 Mar 2013 4:08:03 PM PST
Thank for the info. To Brenda and others, I have found 3 favorite cooking sites on line that are of great help besides this one. I really like the biscuit recipe here. The Gluten Free Goddess is a great site to learn the properties of the different flours you can use to cook with as well as fantastic recipes. The Baking Beauties is wonderful as well and one I use a lot. Elaina's Kitchen is my 3rd choice and a favorite of my friend. Once off of gluten, it is easy at home, less so in public, because of cross contamination. How kind of a famous sandwich place to have gluten-free bread, but a celiac can't eat there because of cross contamination. Many don't see the importance of this. Even buying from bulk bins at grocery stores is prohibited for the same reason. So buy packaged baking goods to guarantee gluten-free. Make it an adventure in cooking, not a "I can't have....anymore".

 
Sharon
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said this on
16 May 2014 10:31:58 AM PST
This site has been a tremendous help in the initial stages of living gluten free. I still refer to it frequently to get ideas and answers. Best wishes with your quest to be truly gluten free and healthy!

 
Cookie
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said this on
15 Apr 2016 2:03:13 PM PST
Yes, I too am new to all this. I had a meltdown at the grocery store because it was so overwhelming. Eat this, don't eat that, read labels, etc.! I'm sure I'll get used to it once I get super educated.

 
Paula Jack
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said this on
05 Feb 2013 11:25:16 PM PST
I appreciate all the info. I recently learned I am intolerant to gluten so have had to make some big changes in my diet. Lots to learn.

 
Louise
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said this on
16 Mar 2013 11:23:58 AM PST
Just starting to read all the info on 'gluten intolerance' which I THINK I may have... I'm going to try to eliminate the cereal I have every morning! Do the 'digestive enzymes' help when trying to figure it all out?

 
celeste
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said this on
02 Jun 2015 11:39:22 AM PST
They did not help me to digest gluten at all. Going gluten free was surprisingly easy for me! AND SO HELPFUL!

 
kam g
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said this on
13 Jul 2013 12:49:15 PM PST
My wife has been on a gluten free diet now for three years and we have discovered that even makeup and some shampoos have gluten. Yes there is a lot to learn.

 
Senior Sal
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said this on
29 Mar 2013 10:15:17 PM PST
Excellent post. My hubby is a severe celiac, diary and soy free. So when I needed to go on the gluten-free diet, it was pretty easy for me. After a week I could go up and down stairs and do the laundry WITH NO PAIN! And gas leaks stopped! It was a miracle. I could go places again. The digestive enzymes hide the stomach pain. I only take them now if I have gut pain and then re-read the box and there it is: may contain. Enzymes do not break down food, they are supposed to help digest, but they don't seem to work with wheat and dairy... Thank you for this post.

 
Chris
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said this on
21 Jun 2013 1:00:26 AM PST
Hi. My wife has been diagnosed with gluten intolerance / celiac disease (it was done in the 80s). Since then she has been on the diet (on and off really - allowing herself to eat gluten stuff every now and then). She had always had some of the listed symptoms after she had eaten gluten.
Now the good news: after switching to a 100% (maybe 99%) diet for her pregnancy in 2010, and then giving birth to our daughter in 2011 she has been declared as cured. And the professor who was treating her said that she had self-healed herself.
So keep up the hope.

 
Kai
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said this on
25 Jun 2013 11:02:19 PM PST
To Chris, whose wife has been declared "cured": if your wife was diagnosed with celiac disease via biopsy, then she has celiac disease for life. Celiac disease is an incurable autoimmune disorder. Even if she does not seem to be having symptoms, if her original diagnosis was indeed correct, she will still be causing serious damage to her body when ingesting gluten.

If she is gluten sensitive or intolerant, it is possible that her body has changed over time and no longer has a poor reaction to gluten. I hope your wife gets herself checked out by a knowledgable GI doctor before returning to gluten for good. It would be a shame for her to be damaging her body by ingesting gluten if she believes that she has been cured, but in reality, is not.

 
Deb
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said this on
02 Jul 2013 5:34:51 PM PST
I have recently determined, by an elimination diet, that I probably have a wheat sensitivity. My dad is also sensitive to wheat. My problem is finding food substitutes that don't cost an arm and a leg. I haven't yet had chance to check out the companies you list on this wonderful website. I plan to have my physician run two blood tests: IgG ant-wheat and Anti-gliadin. These tests should provide definitive answers. Again, thanks for this website.

 
Dani
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said this on
25 Jul 2013 8:19:56 PM PST
Hi, I am unsure if I have celiac disease, or just a gluten deficiency. I have no medical and can't afford to go see a doctor for this. Also I read that in order for the test to be performed, I have to be glutened. I am so deathly afraid of gluten (I've gone gluten-free for 3 weeks now) cause ingesting it basically tears my bowels apart! I've been diagnosed with IBS, cause I had constant diarrhea for years, however no weight loss. I also suffer from Fibromyalgia for 15 years and now read here, that it is a symptom of celiac disease. How can I know for sure without seeing a doctor? Please don't urge me to do so, because I don't think I can handle another intestinal attack, which in general lasts up to 4 hours. Thanks

 
jane
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said this on
31 Oct 2013 9:31:19 PM PST
Very good site. We can all learn from each other.

 
Laurie
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said this on
18 Dec 2013 9:41:33 AM PST
Great article! I can say after 4 weeks of no gluten, all my symptoms disappeared! I can't believe that pain and headaches was associated with gluten sensitivity.

 
roseann
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said this on
22 Mar 2014 11:01:32 PM PST
I am new to the reality that I am gluten intolerant. I am also lactose intolerant. After reading this article and keeping off gluten for the weeks ( going paleo) I appreciate finally understanding all that pain and suffering can end with some answers. My next steps are to learn more non-gluten recipes for breads and to get the proper testing by my Dr. And help her to identify the signs in others as I have been complaining for years with no answers .

 
Gina
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said this on
28 Apr 2014 3:15:24 PM PST
My son has not been growing. He was off the charts big as a toddler. By the 3rd grade he had fallen to the 60th percentile. Now in grade 7 he is in the 25th percentile for height. I am 5'10", my husband is 6'1". He was recently diagnosed with celiac disease. It's no surprise as several family members have it. He also has hypotyroidism so auto immune issues are present. We are eager to put him on a gluten free diet but are frustrated... His Dr. wants us to wait on further testing. Does if really matter if it's an intolerance or an allergy? The earliest appointment offered was September, 5 months away! Why wait if the outcome is going to be placing him on a gluten free diet anyway?

 
emily
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said this on
23 Oct 2014 5:52:45 PM PST
If he's going to be tested for celiac disease he needs to be currently consuming gluten.

 
Jennie Fahn
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said this on
22 Jul 2014 5:33:42 PM PST
I have tried gluten free in an effort to figure out what foods trigger my horrific migraines. One thing I have noticed - there is an additive in 99.9% of the wheat on the market - it's called thiamine mononitrate - and it is what puts the "enriched" in "enriched wheat flour." So I tried finding just plain, non-enriched flour (you can get it at Sprout's - Bob's Red Mill Flour, unenriched type). So this is tricky - I'm still not 100% sure I don't have a low-level gluten sensitivity (as in, I can tolerate it up to a point) or a total intolerance to chemicals (and there are a lot of them out there). I have become a hard-core label reader, not because I'm a health nut, but because I hate migraine headaches. It is really difficult to pinpoint one factor when we are all eating so many chemicals at the same time - who knows how those things affect us. Chances are, if you can't pronounce it, it didn't grow in nature. Thanks for the article.

 
Lindy
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said this on
25 Jul 2014 10:44:47 AM PST
This article and site are helping a lot. I read another article on Pintrest of all places about the symptoms of gluten sensitivity and a couple light bulbs went off in me head. I am glad this site is here because it is allowing me to get information about stuff a lot of doctors overlook.

 
Michelle
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said this on
03 Aug 2014 8:26:13 PM PST
I love coming to this site and reading all the articles and comments. I have had celiac for about 4 years now and still continue to learn more everyday. I keep an open mind and think about how I change recipes to accommodate my gluten free way of life and am grateful for all the options I still have. Sites likes this one have so much to offer.

 
Shellnm
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said this on
23 Oct 2014 10:22:44 AM PST
I just want to share with everyone that I purchased the America's Test Kitchens How Can This Be Gluten Free cookbook and the results of everything I have made have been PERFECT!! Perfect texture, muffins and breads rise beautifully. Much better outcome than anything using Bob's all purpose GF Flour or even Pamela's Artisan Blend GL Flour. Best $20 I've spent and I'm baking and cooking again!

 
Shellnm
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said this on
23 Oct 2014 10:28:52 AM PST
Great explanation, thank you! I do want to mention that my daughter tested NEGATIVE for celiac, but has many of the symptoms of the auto-immune response. I truly believe that even if one tests negative for celiac, you may still have wasting away of the villi. My daughter's symptoms confirm this, in my opinion. Also, DOES ANYONE KNOW OF A DOCTOR IN NEW MEXICO WHO ACTUALLY BELIEVES THAT CELIAC AND GLUTEN INTOLERANCE EXISTS?? At this time we have no support of any western medicine doctors. I'm even willing to take her to Phoenix or Denver if I can find someone who can help. I haven't been able to find a functional medicine doctor here either. Thanks for the feedback.

 
Michael Traiger

said this on
25 Nov 2014 11:51:32 AM PST
I would suggest that you do not waist time on doctors. Just go now on a strict gluten free diet including corn and oats along with the standards of wheat, rye and barley. In a month or less you should feel noticeably better. If so, continue the gluten free diet forever and kiss the doctors goodbye.




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