Understand 2018-02-01T20:09:28+00:00

Celiac disease, gluten intolerance or wheat allergy

What is the difference?

Gluten-free is a buzzword of the health world.   Expressions like “gluten allergy”, “celiac”, “intolerance” are in everyday conversations, especially about food. It is important to understand the difference between these terms.

Everyone who has celiac disease is gluten intolerant, but not everyone who is gluten intolerant has celiac disease. A true wheat allergy is neither celiac disease nor gluten intolerance.

Celiac disease

Celiac  is an autoimmune disease. The immune system is triggered by gluten (a protein in wheat, rye and barley) and attacks the tissues of the body among people who are genetically susceptible. This autoimmune reaction interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food by damaging part of the small intestine called villi (fingerlike projections that help digest food). Damaged villi make it nearly impossible for the body to absorb nutrients into the bloodstream, leading to malnourishment and a host of other problems which may include anemia, bone disease, additional autoimmune conditions and certain types of cancers.

Celiac isn’t a food allergy, like the one people have with peanuts (allergies to wheat do exist, but mainly start in childhood and often disappear by adulthood, according to Food Allergy & Research Education). And it’s not an intolerance like lactose intolerance. Emphasizing the word “autoimmune” can clear up many misconceptions about the disease, says Daniel Leffler, MD, MS, director of clinical research at the Celiac Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Celiac disease is distinct from both allergies and intolerances, he says. “It’s more similar to other autoimmune conditions like type 1 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis.”

For more information, please visit CELIAC DISEASE section of this website.

Gluten intolerance or sensitivity

Gluten intolerance is considered an non-immune, non-allergic symptomatic response to gluten.  It shares the same symptoms as celiac disease without the autoimmune response.

For more information, please visit GLUTEN SENSITIVITY & INTOLERANCE section of this website.

Wheat allergy

Wheat Allergy:   Wheat allergy sometimes is confused with celiac disease, but these conditions differ. A wheat allergy generates an allergy-causing antibody to proteins found in wheat.   A child or adult with wheat allergy is likely to develop symptoms within minutes to hours after eating something containing wheat. Wheat allergy symptoms include:

  • Swelling, itching or irritation of the mouth or throat
  • Hives, itchy rash or swelling of the skin
  • Nasal congestion
  • Headache
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Cramps, nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Anaphylaxis

For more information, please visit WHEAT ALLERGY section of this website.