Ask the Nutritionist: Celiac Disease, Gluten Sensitivity or Wheat Allergy?

Treatment for celiac disease, gluten sensitivity and wheat allergy is avoidance of certain ingredients, but what's the difference between the three?

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Question: “What’s the difference between celiac disease, gluten sensitivity and a wheat allergy?”

Celiac disease is a genetic disorder wherein gliadin (a component of the protein gluten) flattens the lining of your small intestines and results in the malabsorption of nutrients. Symptoms include abdominal cramping, bloating, diarrhea and weight loss. To diagnose celiac, a physician must perform a blood test to look for certain antibodies. If found, the next step is an intestinal biopsy to determine the level of damage — if any — to the intestinal walls.

With a wheat allergy, your body produces antibodies when you ingest wheat in general versus having a response specifically to gluten, and symptoms may include hives, itching, diarrhea or even anaphylaxis. A gluten sensitivity is usually diagnosed after ruling out celiac and a wheat allergy, and symptoms are similar to those for celiac but without the intestininal damage.

Think you have one of these conditions? Eliminate wheat and/or gluten from your diet for several weeks, then slowly reintroduce it and see how you fare. If symptoms appear, consider seeing a nutritionist or physician for further analysis.