What’s the Difference Between Gluten Sensitivity and Intolerance?


In last week’s article, we covered celiac disease and it’s linkage to gluten in our diet. This week we will spotlight gluten sensitivity or intolerance. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or NCGS for short, is fairly new on the medical horizon. The exact number of people affected by NCGS is not clear but some believe the ratio to be 6:1. While celiac disease is a more severe health problem, the symptoms of each can be quite similar. Those with NCGS do not appear to suffer the same intestinal damage and they do not test positive for the antibodies against gluten. Today, there is no definitive lab test to detect if you have NCGS. Research is ongoing to study the many ways our bodies react to the proteins found in today’s grains to help develop specific testing. This will assist physicians to adequately diagnose and treat those with gluten sensitivity.

Now for a little bit of the science. Man discovered wheat 10,000 years ago and implemented it into our diet. While we advanced, we developed wheat to improve its taste and ability to make lighter and tastier foods than the original. With better tasting products, the amount of wheat consumed in our diet has skyrocketed. On average, a person ingests 132 pounds of wheat products per year in the form of breads, pastas, cookies and other processed foods. To better understand how wheat has changed over time, let’s use this comparison.

Wheat has six sets of chromosomes while humans have two. Wheat contains approximately 95,000 genes while humans have about 20,000. Genes directly dictate how proteins are built therefore the more genes, the more different proteins that could potentially be made. One can see that there could be hundreds of different proteins present in modern wheat and any of them could be a trigger for illness. Sounds complicated right? How is a person to know if they might have NCGS?

If you have been experiencing unexplained symptoms such as a daily headache, stomach upset after eating, abdominal bloating or lack of energy, you may want to do a Gluten Free Challenge. This requires you to remove all gluten from your diet for thirty days and note if your symptoms improve. If so, add gluten back into your diet while monitoring for your symptoms to return. If the symptoms return with the gluten reintroduction, you most likely have NCGS. While corn, rice and oats do not directly contain gluten, they do contain proteins which are very similar to gluten and can trigger a reaction. It is best to eliminate them as well during your thirty-day challenge. If the gluten free challenge doesn’t help your symptoms, it could be any of the many other proteins in wheat or possibly some other food. We will be posting about these in future articles. Testing for gluten is a great starting point for many people.

As you can see, removing gluten can be the best thing a person can do to regain their health and vitality. It can be life changing for those with celiac disease or NCGS. It is NOT some magic trick for losing weight. Many gluten free items found on the store shelves today are still high in sugar and preservatives that play a much bigger role in obesity and chronic disease. If you have been diagnosed with celiac disease then definitely follow a gluten free diet. If you want to see if it can help with some nagging health issues then give it a try for thirty days. You really have nothing to lose and potentially a new level of energy and health to gain.

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Treves Janszen

Treves Janszen

Nutrition Coach at Thrive Fitness
Treves is a Level 1 Certified Nutrition Coach through Precision Nutrition. She has been involved with fitness & nutrition for almost 10 years. Along with being a Nutrition Coach, Treves has 30+ years of healthcare experience as a Registered Nurse. In her spare time, Treves like to read, cook and lay by the pool (when it's sunny, of course!).
Treves Janszen