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What is Gluten Sensitivity?

What is the difference between coeliac disease and gluten sensitivity?

Researchers at the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research suggest that gluten sensitivity can cause similar, though less severe, gastrointestinal symptoms than those experienced by someone with coeliac disease. They suggest that gluten sensitivity causes the body to react to gluten by fighting it with inflammation both inside and outside the digestive tract rather than attacking organs as in coeliac disease.

However it is clear that more research is needed on the long-term effects on the body of gluten sensitivity, in particular whether it raises the risk of autoimmune disorders or other chronic conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease, or whether it simply causes symptoms without incurring damage.

There are studies that suggest that the sensitivity in people experiencing non – coeliac symptoms may be a reaction to fructans, complex carbohydrates found in wheat and other grains that are difficult to digest.

What are the symptoms of gluten sensitivity?

Researchers have found that the most common symptoms of gluten sensitivity include digestive problems such as gassiness or abdominal distension and diarrhoea or constipation, rashes, eczema – like skin symptoms, brain fog and fatigue.

How prevalent is gluten sensitivity?

Estimates vary widely: a recent US study suggests that gluten sensitivity affects around 6% of the population, six times as many as coeliac disease.

Is there a test for gluten sensitivity?

At present there is no test for gluten sensitivity. It is suggested that anyone who is concerned they may have gluten sensitivity eliminates gluten completely from their diet for a few weeks to test whether their symptoms subside (having first undergone the blood tests mentioned above to eliminate coeliac disease).  At that point a re-introduction of gluten alongside a re-emergence of symptoms should indicate gluten sensitivity.

Photograph by Sander Spolspoel.