What is the difference between gluten intolerance and Coeliac disease?

Published on July 20, 2016 at 12:00 AM

Coeliac disease is an auto-immune disorder triggered by the consumption of gluten in which the gut lining and its villi are attacked and damaged by gluten leading to the poor digestion and assimilation of nutrients. In recent years another and quite distinct term has surfaced, namely that of gluten intolerance or sensitivity. Patients suffering from gluten intolerance may exhibit a wide range of symptoms including various forms of eczema, headaches, lethargy, mood swings, hyperactivity, ADD, neurological problems, mystery aches and pains, ataxia or poor co-ordination. Exposure to gluten may also aggravate the symptoms of autism and epilepsy.

Recently, a research team led by the well known Coeliac expert, Alessio Fasano MD, discovered that gluten sensitivity (although also an immune response to gluten) produces very different and completely independent responses from Coeliac Disease. Although, not a lot of information is yet available on this subject, the initial findings should enable a more accurate differentiation and diagnoses of the two ‘diseases’.

A study was conducted between three groups: the first with gluten sensitivity, the second without, and the third with Coeliac disease. All participants were subjected to a four month long gluten challenge and varied tests including:

  • Upper endoscopy, including duodenal biopsy;
  • Serological screening for Coeliac disease looking for HLA DQ2/DQ8 typing (the most common gene associated with Coeliac disease);

It was found those with gluten sensitivity had no signs of intestinal damage or increased permeability but had an increase in an innate immunity marker, unlike those with Coeliac disease who showed no signs of increase in this particular innate immunity marker. From these findings, it was concluded that Coeliac disease and gluten intolerance (or sensitivity) are totally different clinical entities.

There is also a fourth group of individuals, excluded from the above trials for obvious reasons, who should not be overlooked, namely, those who suffer from a combination of both Coeliac Disease and gluten intolerance and who exhibit gut damage along with the other mental, emotional, and nervous system symptoms and/or other external symptoms of gluten intolerance like eczema.

Are you a Coeliac? Or are you gluten intolerant or sensitive to the consumption of food containing gluten. We are interested to hear from you, so please share your experiences or thoughts in the comment box below.