Gluten Intolerance vs. Celiac Disease: What’s the Difference?

By Marsha Hudnall on 10/05/2009
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Gluten free meal if gluten free soy sauce is used

At the conference I recently attended, several speakers spoke about a “super gluten” that was introduced into the US food supply a number of years ago.  They speculate it may be one reason we’re seeing increasing numbers of people who are sensitive to gluten.

I haven’t been able to find any more info about super gluten, but if I do, I’ll let you know.

What I have been finding is more support for the idea that you can be gluten sensitive without having celiac disease.  The concept isn’t widely accepted among the mainstream medical community but, according to Mark Hyman, MD (one of those who spoke about super gluten), gluten is  a very common allergen that affects 10 to 20 percent of the population.  That’s 10 to 20 out of every 100 of us.  The result is chronic inflammation, which can contribute to a host of undesirable illnesses ranging from thyroid problems to heart disease. While going gluten-free isn’t recommended as a weight loss strategy per se, there is thought that chronic inflammation can also contribute to weight struggles.

One thing that everyone agrees about is to get tested for celiac disease before going on a gluten-free diet. That usually involves a blood test and often an intestinal biopsy.  If you eliminate gluten before testing, you may get inaccurate results.

If you don’t test positive and still experience symptoms like these and more,

  • indigestion
  • bloating
  • diarrhea
  • fatigue
  • irritability
  • depression
  • joint pain

an elimination diet might be something to consider.  Cut out gluten for a while to see if symptoms resolve.  But gluten may not be the only thing that’s causing inflammation in our bodies so a more comprehensive diet eliminating most major allergens is often called for.  And eating a wholesome, balanced diet.  You stay on the diet for a few weeks, then re-introduce foods one at a time to gauge reactions.  Working with a qualified nutritionist/registered dietitian to do this is highly recommended to make sure you do it healthfully, and don’t waste your efforts by doing it wrong.

Gluten-free isn’t a death sentence, even for a foodie.  I’m not celiac, but I’ve been gluten-free for over two years after discovering via an elimination diet that gluten made me feel terribly tired and contributed to joint pain.  I don’t miss gluten at all.  The growing number of gluten-free products make it relatively easy.  But remember, healthy eating is still critical to feeling well.  Eating too much highly-processed food, even if it is gluten-free, isn’t likely to take us where we want to go.

As part of our healthy weight loss program, we’ve long catered to individual food sensitivities.  Our chefs are masters at producing great gluten-free meals and snacks.  If you need to start or continue an elimination diet, we can also help.

Here are a two other great resources for gluten-free living:  Kitchen Therapy, a blog written by a registered dietitian to help “overcome your gluten-free kitchen issues,” and Gluten Free Betsy! Betsy features product reviews as well as recipes and info on events that may be of interest for gluten-free living.  She points out that October is Celiac Awareness Month in the US and Canada, and lists various gluten-free activities taking place in Chicago.  I’m sure there are plenty taking place in other areas, too.

Are you gluten sensitive?  If so, how did you discover that?  If not, are you wondering if you might be?

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