What’s gluten? What are the different gluten and wheat allergic or intolerant conditions?
Gluten is the name for a group of prolamine or storage proteins. It occurs in wheat, rye, and barley, and in grains related to wheat. Toxins produced by the gluten can cause a reaction. When the body encounters gluten, it will attack it like it would attack a pathogen. When this happens, tissues exposed to the gluten can also become damaged, like the small intestines. When the small intestines react to the gluten, they swell up, affecting the functioning of microvilli, tiny brush-like extensions along the intestinal surface that grab nutrients as the float by.
Celiac disease, Shelly says, is an inherited autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack normal tissues when gluten is introduced into the body. Oftentimes, these tissues are the organs of the gastrointestinal tract, specifically the small intestines. The small intestines are responsible for the absorption of all of your nutrients, and when these become damaged, your ability to obtain nutrition from your food is compromised. Malnutrition, nutrient deficiencies, and poor health can result. Iron, folic acid, vitamins A, B, E, and K, and calcium are greatly impacted by insufficient absorption.
Celiac disease can affect other organs of the body as well, and these can include your skin. Symptoms vary greatly from individuals from the typical bloating, diarrhea, vomiting, dizziness, wasting or thinness, and lethargy to symptoms that are usually associated with other conditions, like muscle aches, poor skin health, mood disorders, inhibited growth, and nerve damage like tingling hands.
The average amount of time it takes to diagnose celiac disease is twelve years, because the tests are quite involved. Often times the condition can be confused with fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome. Testing for celiac disease includes a blood test checking for antibodies that react to gluten and a small intestine biopsy checking for damaged tissue.
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is a gluten reaction that is not actually an autoimmune disease. The GI tract does not become damaged, although individuals report uncomfortable symptoms similar to celiac disease. They do not have a strictly allergic reaction, and so they will not show the gluten antibodies like someone with celiac disease would. Those with diarrhea-IBS and gluten ataxia (mental health challenges) may benefit from a gluten-free diet but are not gluten allergic.
A wheat allergy is specific to the wheat family and is not focused on gluten. Rye and barley can be included in a wheat-avoidance diet. In this allergy, the antibodies attach to mast cells, which produce histamines when exposed to wheat. Histamines cause swelling and flushing, and when this occurs in the throat and mouth, anaphylaxis can occur. This is extremely life threatening.
*Apricot shortbread cookie from Flying Apron*