What is Gluten Intolerance and Gluten Sensitivity?
Gluten intolerance (GI) and gluten sensitivity are terms sometimes used interchangeably to describe an adverse reaction to gluten; however, researchers have determined that gluten intolerance and gluten sensitivity are indeed different. While both conditions cause an uncomfortable reaction to gluten, the protein found in rye, barley, and wheat, researchers suggest that gluten intolerance more accurately describes the reaction that occurs with celiac disease, while gluten sensitivity causes its own intestinal response to gluten. According to researchers, there are marked differences between genes regulating the immune response in the gut and intestinal permeability, or the ability of the digestive tract's mucous layer to hinder undigested food proteins, bacteria, and antigens from filtering into the gastrointestinal barrier. Celiac disease often causes a high degree of permeability or leaky gut; however, research shows that this in not the case with gluten sensitivity. It is estimated that more than 10 million Americans have gluten sensitivity, a number greater than those with Celiac Disease
.Common Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance and Gluten Sensitivity
Both conditions share common symptoms, such as diarrhea and abdominal pain, etc.; however, gluten sensitivity does not cause flattening of the absorbing villi, intestinal inflammation, or long-term intestinal damage, if left untreated, like gluten intolerance. Some common symptoms of gluten intolerance include:
- Stomach pain
- Abdominal gas and bloating
- Chronic diarrhea
- Light, foul smelling stool
- Nausea and vomiting
- Canker sores in the mouth
- Anxiety and depression
- Missed menstrual periods
While gluten sensitivity can cause intestinal damage, gluten sensitivity often displays non-GI symptoms. Symptoms generally appear within a few days after consuming gluten and can include:
Common Causes of Gluten Intolerance and Gluten Sensitivity
- Gas, bloating, and abdominal pain
- Joint pain
- Foggy mind
- Numbness in arms, legs, or fingers
For both gluten intolerance and gluten sensitivity, dietary intake is a primary cause of the reaction. Certain foods, such as bread, pasta, and cereals, may contain wheat, barley, or rye, which contains the gluten protein. However, research suggests that gluten alone may not be the only symptom trigger in gluten sensitive individuals. Studies show that poorly digested carbohydrates, or FODMAPs, may also trigger symptoms in gluten-sensitive individuals.
Genes in conjunction with environmental factors, such as gut bacteria, gastrointestinal infection, and even infant feeding practices, may also increase your risk of developing gluten sensitivity, or Celiac Disease. Individuals with type 1 diabetes
, rheumatoid arthritis
, Down Syndrome, Addison's disease, microscopic colitis, or autoimmune thyroid disease
are also at greater risk of developing gluten intolerance. Sometimes the onset of gluten intolerance occurs after intense emotional stress, such as following surgery, pregnancy, or childbirth.