Did you know that having a wheat allergy is not the same as having celiac disease? Many people seem to blur the lines among a gluten-related disease, an intolerance and an allergy… yet this can be terribly dangerous.
Make no mistake, the only way to determine with certainty which condition you or a loved one suffers from is to consult with a medical professional and have them administer the appropriate tests. For now, I will describe these three conditions in a way that I hope will help you understand how they are similar but still distinctly different medical phenomenons.
Celiac sprue disease is at the heart of this condition because it is the most dire and most clinically defined. However, coeliac disease (as it is sometimes spelled) is not an allergy, it is an autoimmune disease. An autoimmune disease reveals itself through unusually high amounts of antibodies in the bloodstream. Essentially an autoimmune disease occurs when the human immune system attacks its own body.
With celiac sprue disease, the antibodies EMA, AGA and especially Anti-tTG attack the lining of the small intestine. In particular, they slowly kill off the small hair-like fingers along the small intestine wall that grabs nutrition from your food.
A wheat allergy occurs when you have a histamine response to wheat itself. You can test positive for celiac sprue disease but not for a wheat allergy and you can test positive for a wheat allergy yet test negative for celiac. With a wheat allergy, your immune system attacks an allergen, and the symptoms you experience a byproduct of your immune system reacting to that foreign allergen.
An allergic reaction involves a t cell response to a predetermined allergen. In other words, you need to have exposure to a foreign element to become allergic to it. When that allergen triggers the t cell response, an antibody called IgE links with mast cells and basophils, then all together they go on a rampage through your body trying to fight off that allergen. This most often results in a histamine response but can also result in symptoms like mucus production and even asthma. These reactions are not to be underestimated as some rare cases may result in anaphylactic shock, which can be deadly.
Gluten intolerance is generally considered to be either a milder form of celiac disease or a perfectly potent form that just doesn’t generate a positive result for standard celiac disease tests. Sometimes the antibody levels fluctuate; sometimes a patient has already begun a gluten-free diet, making the test less accurate; and to some people, the testing for celiac disease just isn’t complete and accurate. For these people, we have a new term: Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitive, or NCGS.
Despite testing negative for celiac sprue disease, these people still must adhere to a strict gluten-free diet. However, it is important to understand that gluten intolerance, like celiac disease, is still not allergy. It is an autoimmune disease. The resulting symptoms occur from the body attacking itself, not from the body attacking an allergen.
I hope these definitions help you distinguish between these different phenomenons. No matter which one you may suffer from, it is important that you remove the associated food source from your diet and it is vital you discuss any possible diagnosis with your doctor.