Coeliac Disease or Wheat Intolerance?

Coeliac Disease vs. Wheat Intolerance

15-20% of the world population suffer symptoms including diarrhoea, bloating, cramps, gas, and weight loss when consuming food containing gluten such as cereals, bread, rye, cakes, beer etc. While most get on with their lives by avoiding or reducing this type of food, many others no matter what, complain with their doctor and are eventually prescribed a Coeliac screen. Those screening positive may then have a biopsy of the lining of the small intestine to confirm Coeliac disease and only a gluten free diet will help them live a normal life. However, statistics show that less than 1% of the world population is diagnosed with Coeliac disease. The golden question is, 'what is wrong with the rest who suffer so much?' There are two answers to this, one may have been wrongly diagnosed to Coeliac Disease (false negative) or otherwise a person is gluten intolerant rather than coeliac.

Avoiding a false negative result

Food containing gluten

When for several years I worked in a London hospital screening patients for Coeliac disease we took the utmost care to avoid false results (positive or negative). We have controls in place to guarantee a true value. The test involves measuring the concentration of antibodies (proteins) the person produces against the gluten protein found in wheat. Persons who do not suffer from Coeliac have a very low level if not zero of this antibody value, while those who are Coeliac have a high level.

If someone who is true Coeliac has for several weeks undergone a gluten free diet before the test, his blood may not have anymore antibodies circulating. Gluten antibodies are only produced when gluten is in the system and do not remain there for ever. Hence, since there are no antibodies for the test to detect, the patient is diagnosed 'coeliac negative'. The person would then think all is good and after the first meal containing gluten all symptoms return. To avoid this from happening it is essential that before attending for a Coeliac screen one must for some days before the test consume some gluten food. If the person is a coeliac the immune system will produce the antibodies against the gluten protein which in turn will be detected in the test.

If this concerns children, one must first seek advice before giving them gluten food.

Wheat Intolerance

Bread contains gluten

This is the other answer and is not as uncomfortable as being diagnosed with Coeliac disease, however, the symptoms are still irritating. It affects 15-20% of the world population, with most unaware of the real cause of the symptoms. Wheat intolerance, also called Non Coeliac Gluten Intolerance (NCGI) is caused when the digestive system is unable to break down properly food containing gluten. Gluten remains in the system which irritates the digestive system without causing the damage that Coeliac does to the lining of the small intestine. Coeliac screen will always result as negative because these persons do not produce antibodies. Managing the symptoms is also easier because while Coeliac persons have to completely adapt to a gluten free diet, those with gluten intolerance need only limit the amount of gluten they consume. Not everybody is the same, some may tolerate more than others before the symptoms occur.

One must bear in mind that gluten intolerance causes irritation of the lining of the small intestine. The small intestine houses cells that produce digestive enzymes, one of them being lactase which is responsible in breaking down lactose in milk and dairy. Damage to these cells caused by this irritation leads to reduced lactase production and hence one also becomes lactose intolerant. In fact many people who think are lactose intolerant are probably simply gluten intolerant first and lactose intolerant second. By leaving gluten out their diets or controlling its intake results in the quick recovery of these cells and will be able to consume milk and dairy without an issue.

Find out more about:

Food & Lactose Intolerance

Food intolerance is the inability to completely break down food resulting in cramps, bloating, wind, diarrhoea etc. Lactose Intolerance (milk) is the most common form and affects half the world population. Food Allergy is not Lactose Intolerance. A guide is provided.

Food & Milk Allergy

Food allergy is caused when the immune system mistakenly responds to food proteins thinking they are harmful substances. Symptoms include vomiting, itching, rash, and hives. Allergies in children are very common, but treatment with digestive enzymes may prove very helpful.

IBS or Simply Food Intolerance?

Medical studies confirmed 50% of patients diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome may in fact be Lactose Intolerant. Omitting dairy products from their diet, or treating it with enzymes has helped them start a new life. Since IBS symptoms are similar to LI, diagnosis can be confusing.

Carbohydrate Intolerance and Obesity

The inability to break down starch and other sugars leads to bloating, wind, cramps, diarrhoea, etc. Now there is evidence that obesity may be related to carbohydrate intolerance. There is some good news with the help of digestive enzymes

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