Wheat allergy is one of the most common of all food allergies. One of the problems in dealing with it is that it is confused not just with wheat intolerance but also with celiac disease. All 3 health issues can be very problematic causing much pain and anguish, so let’s take a look at each in turn and try to see what is and what is not wheat allergy.
One of the problems we encounter is there is a confusion in the medical profession about what is and what is not an allergy. Environmentally aware Doctors will classify a reaction as an allergy whereas most allergists will only call a reaction an allergy if it involves a particular type of antibody and would call all other reactions “Food Intolerance”.
It’s not our concern to take sides here but only to get some clarity on the issues that affect our health. The main concern is not really whether I call the symptoms I get a wheat allergy or a wheat intolerance; the main concern is to reduce or remove the symptoms and to return to living a normal healthy life.
What is an allergy?
An Allergy is often viewed as an over reaction by the body to something which would seem to be harmless. Allergy reactions typically involve swelling, itching, pain and coughing and wheezing.
Some of these reactions occur through the immune system and involve antibodies. Indeed one of the standard allergy tests, the RAST test involves scanning a blood sample for food antibodies. If the antibodies re present a food allergy is diagnosed or confirmed.
Most allergists will only consider that you have a wheat allergy if they find antibodies to wheat or rather to a small fraction of wheat protein in your blood. It may be more exact for some folks to say that they have a gluten allergy since that is the protein that usually reacts.
And that brings us to Celiac or Coeliac disease.
The view on this genetic problem has changed a lot in recent years and it is now considered to be a specific allergic reaction to gluten protein and its treatment is simply a gluten free diet.
Some patients may not have any obvious symptoms but most will have loose stools and perhaps a lot of gastrointestinal pain and bloating along with malabsorption of minerals and other nutrients caused by damage to the inner lining of the gut.
When foods trigger symptoms and antibodies are not found in the blood then a patient is often given the diagnosis of food Intolerance. Patients should always ask lots of questions about how their diagnosis is reached and what they can do in terms of lifestyle and nutrition quite apart from specific medication that may be advised.
And the label of wheat intolerance does not mean that your symptoms are any less than if you were wheat allergic. In both cases avoiding gluten is a sensible precaution and may involve redesigning menus and buying different foods.
A gluten free diet may be quite difficult to follow. There is wheat in many foods we take for granted and wheat is also hidden in many ingredients.
Even a careful study of food labels may not be sufficient to alert you to the presence of gluten in the food. How vigilant the patient has to be will depend on the severity of their symptoms. With difficult cases best advice is to get expert guidance from a nutritionist or dietitian to achieve a healthy gluten free diet and a healthy symptom free life.