There is a lot of confusion surrounding gluten allergy, wheat allergy, gluten intolerance, and celiac disease. To add to the confusion, many sources mistakenly use these phrases incorrectly. These four phrases are not the same thing, and this article will help you understand their differences, as well as help you learn more about gluten allergies.
Food Allergy vs. Food Intolerance
Before getting into the specifics of gluten allergies, it is important that you understand the differences between a food allergy and a food intolerance. Simply put, a food allergy is caused by the immune system attacking what it perceives as an invader (the trigger food), while a food intolerance is caused by the digestive system reacting to a trigger food. The graphic below will help explain the differences.
As you can see from the graphic, exposure to a trigger food will always cause an allergic reaction to people with a food allergy, but people with a food intolerance may or may not experience a reaction. With an intolerance, whether or not there is a reaction, and the severity of the reaction, depends on the amount of trigger food that has been ingested.
With regards to gluten, more often than not, people who suffer from pain or discomfort after eating gluten self-diagnose themselves with gluten allergy when it is more likely they have a gluten intolerance. A true gluten allergy can be confirmed by a doctor with a blood test. A gluten intolerance is much more difficult to confirm because there is no single test to identify it, and the symptoms experienced could be caused by something other than gluten.
What Is Gluten Allergy?
Gluten allergy is an allergic reaction to gluten. When gluten is eaten by someone allergic to it, the body reacts by causing the immune system to attack the invading food. The attack typically takes place in the gut, and most symptoms focus on the digestive system.
This type of allergy can also cause inflammation, which may cause symptoms the extend beyond the digestive tract into the nervous system, and possibly even into the brain.
Because the body is attacking itself (the digestive system), it is an autoimmune response. As already stated, most symptoms occur in the gut, and it can destroy the gut if left unchecked. It is also possible for a gluten allergy to lead to celiac disease, which is discussed below.
When Does A Gluten Allergy Appear?
Scientists are in not in agreement on this issue. Some think that it is a hereditary allergy, while others think it can show up at any time, in any person. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, with some people inheriting the allergy from their parents. Yes, people who’s parents are allergic to gluten have a greater chance of developing the allergy themselves, but it is not guaranteed.
There is one thing that scientists do agree upon, though. The earlier the allergy is diagnosed, the better off a person will be. The reason for this is simple: the longer the allergy goes untreated, the worse it will be for the person.
There are known cases where gluten allergies in children may seem to disappear as they children hit puberty, but then reappear around or after age 30. There are others who had no problems with gluten as children and young adults, then developed the allergy as they got older. Unfortunately, it seems that people who develop a gluten allergy as adults do not get over the allergy.
Symptoms Of Gluten Allergy
Those who suffer from gluten allergy deal with a wide range of problems that range from mere discomfort to extreme pain. Symptoms that are merely annoyances include sinus problems, gas, dizzyness, and mouth ulcers.
Some of the more painful or severe symptoms people with gluten allergies may experience include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, weight gain, and even depression.
Unfortunately, most people go undiagnosed. They suffer for years, possibly even a lifetime, without knowing there is relief. They may not even recognize that symptoms they experience are a chronic problem, so do not think to discuss them with their doctors.
Testing For Gluten Allergies
These common symptoms are typical for both gluten allergy and gluten intolerance, so it can be difficult diagnosing one from the other. You cannot rely on seeing a list of symptoms that match yours and determine that you have gluten allergies.
Your doctor, however, will be able to make that diagnosis. There are several tests that can be given, depending on your symptoms. Most people are diagnosed with gluten allergy from one of several blood tests available.
The Link Between Gluten Allergy and Depression
Most of the symptoms of gluten allergies are physical, such as gastrointestinal upset or headache, but not all. You may be surprised to learn that depression is also a known reaction in people who are allergic to gluten.
People with gluten-induced depression may experience fatigue, suffer from low self-esteem, or full-blown depression. Often these people have taken prescription medication to control their depression but found that the medication didn’t help.
The reason for depression is believed to be caused by gluten’s effect on the nervous system. Some research suggests that this is because the people with gluten allergies create antibodies that causes inflammation, and that the inflammation may affect the brain and nervous system, leading to depression. Research is still ongoing in this matter.
There may also be another reason for the depression. People who have gluten allergies experience deficient protein absorption. Some researchers believe that this also causes a defiency in absorbing tryptophan, an amino acid that causes relaxation and feelings of overall well-being. The inability to absorb tryptophan may be part of the cause of depression.
A third theory relates to serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical that is created by the brain, but people with depression have a decreased level serotonin. Scientists know that the digestive system creates about 90% of a person’s serotonin. Having a gluten allergy affects the digestive tract, and can prevent certain foods and nutrients from being absorbed. It is theorized that this inability to absorb foods properly may prevent the needed levels of serotonin from being created.
Treatment For Gluten Allergies
Despite all the pain and misery that can be caused by being allergic to gluten, there is good news. Relief is a simple as removing gluten from your diet. In fact, this is the only known way to manage this allergy.
Actually, that sounds simple, but may be challenging to do in reality. Once you start looking at labels, you will realize that gluten is found in a large number of the foods readily available in grocery stores. If you want to remove gluten from your diet, then it will take effort on your part.
Fortunately, there are a lot of food companies that are realizing the need for gluten-free foods. Look for “gluten-free” on labels, but it is also good to view the ingredients of such foods. Be aware that any food that contains grains that have gluten, such as wheat or oats, may contain trace amounts of gluten because any food that contains gluten cannot 100% remove it.
You can also make your own food so that you are sure you are eating gluten-free. The list of foods that contain gluten is far greater than the list of those that don’t. Get familiar with the foods that don’t contain gluten, and start cooking your way to a healthier you.
How Long To Reverse The Effects Of Gluten?
Once you stop eating gluten, don’t expect results overnight. No one knows exactly how long it takes to reverse the effects of a gluten allergy, but the general thought is that it can take anywhere from six months to two years. The time of recovery depends on the level of damage that was done by the allergy.
Gluten Allergy vs. Celiac Disease vs. Wheat Allergy vs. Gluten Intolerance
Gluten is the cause of more than just gluten allergy. It can also cause gluten intolerance (sometimes called gluten sensitivity) and celiac disease (“SEE-lee-ack”). To complicate the matter, there is also wheat allergy, which has symptoms similar to that of a gluten allergy, but a wheat allergy is caused only by wheat, not gluten.
An allergic reaction to gluten that causes people to experience symptoms after eating food that contains gluten. See above for more complete details.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease. With celiac disease, the ingestion of gluten causes the body to attack healthy tissue in the gastrointestinal tract. This causes inflammation and pain, as well as a decreased ability to absorb food. Decreased absorption can lead to other health problems, such as anemia.
Although not everyone who has gluten allergies also has celiac disease, those with celiac disease almost certainly have gluten allergies, too.
An allergic reaction to wheat that causes people to experience symptoms after eating food that contains wheat. The primary difference between gluten and wheat allergies is that people with a wheat allergy must avoid wheat products only, while those allergic to gluten must avoid all foods with gluten. Remember, gluten is found in more than just wheat, so a gluten allergy requires a broader range of foods to stay away from.
Gluten Intolerance (aka Gluten Sensitivity)
Gluten intolerance is often confused with gluten allergies. To make matters worse, there is no single definition for gluten intolerance. Doctors accept that there are people who do not have celiac disease, or gluten or wheat allergies, but definitely experience discomfort or pain after ingesting gluten.
The difference between a gluten intolerance and allergy is subtle, since the symptoms are so similar, but there is a difference. An allergic reaction causes the body to create antibodies, which causes the discomfort or pain, and can be tested for and diagnosed. An intolerance, which might cause discomfort or pain that mirrors those caused by allergies, is not caused by antibodies. There is no one test that can diagnose an intolerance.
Additionally, it is believed that no permanent damage is caused by the effects of gluten intolerance, whereas there may be lasting damage caused by gluten allergic reactions or celiac disease.
Continue to learn about gluten and the various affects it can have on you. We have written several articles to help you learn about gluten and what it does to the body. We invite you to read through the following pages:
- Gluten Allergy Symptoms
- Gluten Allergy Test
- Celiac Disease
- Controlling Celiac Disease
- Gluten-Free Foods
- What Is Gluten?
- Side Effects of Gluten
- Gluten-Free Beer
- Gluten and Weight Gain
Gluten-Free Diet – http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/gluten-free-diet/my01140
Food Intolerance vs. Food Allergies – http://www.webmd.com/allergies/foods-allergy-intolerance