May is Celiac Awareness Month. Do you know the difference between wheat allergy, Celiac Disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity?
A wheat allergy is when the immune system thinks that wheat is harmful and triggers different symptoms such as: hives/rash, itchy skin, swollen eyes, face, lips, throat or tongue, trouble breathing, speaking or swallowing, cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, a drop in blood pressure, or rapid heartrate.
Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disease characterized by a reaction that occurs when a specific protein called gluten, found in many grains including wheat, rye, barley and triticale, actually damages the intestines and interferes with nutrient absorption. This can lead to anemia, chronic diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, cramping, bloating and potentially malnutrition. Wheat allergy and Celiac Disease are two different conditions. With wheat allergy, the body is reacting to the proteins found in wheat, but there is no permanent damage to the digestive tract. In Celiac Disease, the body’s immune system is reacting to foods containing gluten (found in wheat and other grains), which is causing permanent damage to the lining of the small intestine.
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is a third and separate condition where individuals have some symptoms from consuming gluten-containing foods, but do not have Celiac Disease. It is important that individuals do not assume they have gluten sensitivity if experiencing digestive symptoms, as there are other conditions that could have similar symptoms. Avoiding gluten or wheat can limit variety in one’s diet and have a negative impact on the availability of nutrients and overall gut health. Similarly, no one should assume that they are allergic to wheat, or self-diagnose Celiac Disease.
You should always consult your family doctor, allergist or gastroenterologist, in order to obtain an official diagnosis and gain their support and referrals to help manage each condition.
A wheat-free or grain-free lifestyle is not healthier than a wheat or grain containing diet. It is important to recognize that the grain and starch family offers opportunities for fibre, vitamins, minerals and nutrients that keep the body healthy and functioning optimally.
If you have concerns about your gut health, speak to your family doctor or Registered Dietitian.