Celiac Disease vs. Wheat Allergy

September 15, 2010

Celiac Disease vs. Wheat Allergy

Dietitian clarifies public confusion over gluten-free diet and the medical conditions that require it.

Gluten—more specifically, the gluten-free diet—is more popular than ever among the general public. This attention, however, is accompanied by misinformation, including inaccurate assumptions about medical conditions triggered by gluten. A recent article by Pam Stuppy, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, aims to clear up some of the confusion.

Celiac disease and wheat allergies are often clumped in the same category, but these conditions are strikingly different, Stuppy noted:

“Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease, which means that even a trace of gluten causes a flattening of the villi — little fingerlike projections in the intestinal lining that absorb nutrients and energy sources from the foods we eat. People with celiac disease are more likely to acquire one or more other autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis…

“A wheat allergy is an allergic response by the body that triggers symptoms such as rashes, asthma, or even anaphylactic shock but unlike celiac disease, it does not involve self-destruction of body tissues.

“Recent studies suggest that there may be a third category of conditions related to gluten that is not specifically autoimmune or allergy-based. This gluten sensitivity may be because of changes in the lining of the intestinal tract and how it controls what gets into the blood stream. This may also be the connection with autism. More work needs to be done in this area.”

The article also highlighted health issues surrounding the gluten-free diet. Gluten-free can be healthy for non-celiacs, Stuppy said, especially when naturally gluten-free foods like fresh fruits and vegetables are emphasized. The risk, however, is when people focus on gluten-free alternatives, which can have higher fat and sugar content than their non-gluten-free counterparts, the dietitian explained.

Read the full article.

Visit NFCA’s “Gluten-Free Food” section for gluten-free diet information and recipe ideas.