On the face of it, there may not seem to be much difference whether you have a gluten allergy, gluten sensitivity or celiac disease. However there are important differences we will look at in this article.
An gluten allergy is basically an immune response to gluten. Celiac disease is also an immune disease involving gluten, but it is not an allergy. Sound confusing? Perhaps it would be best to first look at what celiac disease is, then it will be easier to understand what a gluten allergy is.
Celiac disease is genetic. Unless you have the genetic makeup to become susceptible to celiac disease, you’re off the hook on this one. But if you do, you’re stuck with the disease and the risks for life. The only known way to deal with celiac disease is to manage it by avoiding all gluten. Let’s say you have celiac disease and don’t notice any ill effects if you have a single slice of toast per week. Unfortunately, you still have to avoid gluten because many celiac disease symptoms are long-term and/or seem unrelated. For example, colon cancer is a significant risk to those with celiac that continue to eat gluten, but it generally takes decades to show up. Diabetes or some thyroid conditions can actually be manifestations of celiac disease, but this is far from obvious.
Now let’s take a look at gluten allergy. Gluten allergy is not genetic, at least there is no specific gene to express gluten allergy as far as anyone knows. Allergies can come and go, especially with children as they age, and allergies can become worse or less severe. Which many gluten allergy symptoms are similar to celiac disease symptoms, such as abdominal issues and lack of energy, there is no known link to other diseases, so if you don’t have symptoms eating a slice of bread per week, go ahead and indulge in your guilty pleasures! Beware though: don’t use this as an excuse to eat gluten and go on the gluten allergy downward spiral, where the more you eat, the worse you feel, the harder it is to stop. Gluten allergy has actually been described as being similar to addictive behavior for just this reason.
Gluten intolerance is rather like dairy intolerance – an inability to digest gluten. It is hard to know how many people have a gluten allergy vs. a gluten intolerance, and the definitions tend to vary according to school of thought, but you can pretty much treat gluten allergy vs. intolerance in the same way – cut out gluten.
What is your experience with gluten allergy? Please leave a comment.