Gluten intolerance has been in the news for some time now: celebrities complain of it, television and other health gurus promote their brands of gluten-free foods and diet plans. Gluten-free foods, such as breads, cake mixes and other products abound in supermarkets as consumer awareness of gluten intolerance is growing, but do you really know what this condition is about?
Recently comedian Jimmy Kimmel conducted an on-the-street-interview stunt where people were asked about gluten intolerance and to describe what it is. No one really seemed to know, yet people continue to complain about having it and related food allergies and conditions. What’s the difference between having gluten sensitivity, an allergy and a more serious disorder called celiac disease? Here are the facts:
Gluten is a protein found primarily in grains such as wheat, rye and barley. Gluten intolerance affects the digestive system, but not the immune system. Gluten intolerance may cause gassiness, bloating, abdominal discomfort and diarrhea. Gluten intolerance by itself is seldom life-threatening.
Celiac disease is an inherited autoimmune condition that, left untreated, can damage the intestines and create severe health problems for the patient. Medication as well as dietary modifications are necessary to treat this disease.
While there is often considerable digestive discomfort, gluten sensitivity or intolerance is seldom life-threatening, unlike a food allergy or the presence of celiac disease. Frequently, a simple change in diet to avoid foods containing gluten is all that is needed. With so many gluten-free food choices now available, this shouldn’t be difficult.
A true allergy to gluten, as with any food allergy, such as nuts or eggs, is a disorder of the immune system in its response to certain types of protein, whether found in dairy, eggs, nuts or some grains. The immune system responds by producing antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE) which attach to cells in the skin, gastrointestinal tract and lungs. Once contact is again made with the offending substance, the cells of the affected organs release histamines and other chemicals, which often result in: