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Is celiac disease the same as a wheat allergy?

Three round loafs of homemade bread wits on a dark table peppered with flour. Small heads of wheat lay on the table.

The short answer is: no – celiac disease and wheat and gluten allergies are not the same thing. While their side-effects may appear similar and both can be resolved by modifying your diet, what happens inside your body and why are very different.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in types of wheat, rye, barley, and triticale. These proteins, known as gluten, help foods maintain their shape by acting as a glue that binds food together. If you’ve ever made bread from scratch, you’ll recognize gluten as the substance that gives the dough its elasticity.

Over the last several years, the term ‘gluten-free’ has been popping up everywhere. Chances are, if you’re not currently following a gluten-free diet, you know someone who is – or someone who should be.

According to the, University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center “Celiac disease affects 1% of healthy, average Americans. That means at least 3 million people in our country are living with celiac disease—97% of them are undiagnosed.”

What is Celiac Disease?

The Celiac Disease Foundation states, “Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disease that occurs in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine.”

In people with celiac disease, the immune system reacts to gluten and produces antibodies. An inflammatory process is set off that damages the lining of the small intestine. Ultimately, this impairs the digestion of food and absorption of nutrients, often leading to malnutrition, bone disease and other conditions throughout the body.

Signs and Symptoms of Celiac Disease

Signs that you may have celiac disease may occur in a number of digestive related, and non-digestive related symptoms, including:

  • Diarrhea

  • Fatigue

  • Weight loss

  • Bloating and gas

  • Abdominal pain

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Constipation

  • Anemia, usually from iron deficiency

  • Loss of bone density (osteoporosis) or softening of bone (osteomalacia)

  • Mouth ulcers

  • Headaches and fatigue

  • Joint pain

  • And more

A number of antibody screenings are available to test for celiac disease. However, the only way for your doctor to confirm a celiac disease diagnosis is to have an intestinal biopsy.

The earlier you can detect celiac disease the better. Those diagnoses are at risk of nutrient deficiencies, which can cause severe health conditions such as early-onset osteoporosis or osteopenia, central and peripheral nervous system disorders, pancreatic and gallbladder malfunction, and various neurological manifestations.

What is a gluten sensitivity?

If you test negative for celiac disease, but are still experiencing symptoms, you may have a sensitivity to gluten or a non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Gluten sensitivity is a reaction to gluten—a protein in wheat, rye, and barley—that can result in wide-ranging symptoms including, but not limited to:

  • gastrointestinal issues,

  • Headache

  • brain fog

  • Neuropathy

  • depression

They often report less fatigue, digestive issues, and neurological issues after removing gluten from their diet.

According to Very Well Health, “The precise mechanisms behind gluten sensitivity are not fully understood. While gluten appears to be the main culprit, other components of grains—such as fructans and amylase-trypsin inhibitors—may play a role in the condition.”

How do you manage Celiac disease and gluten sensitivities?

The way to manage celiac disease or gluten sensitivity is to adhere to a strict gluten-free diet.

What is a wheat allergy?

Whereas celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disease, a wheat allergy is when your body responds to wheat ingestion with a specific allergic response. The symptoms appear quickly — within minutes or (at most) a few hours of wheat ingestion — and can be life-threatening in the worst cases.

Signs and symptoms of a wheat allergy

Wheat allergies typically results in symptoms such as:

  • sniffling

  • Itching

  • Hives

  • in the most serious cases — difficulty breathing and swelling of the throat and airway.

  • Cramps

  • nausea

  • vomiting

While it's possible to have a true allergic reaction to the gluten protein in wheat, such an allergy is generally referred to as a wheat allergy, not a gluten allergy.

Ready to make a change and remove gluten and wheat from your diet? I’m here to support you. We start with a 30 minute complimentary discovery session in order to start building a plan that’s unique to you and your health history.

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