Are Gluten Disorders Real? Are Gluten Allergies Real?
Scientifically there is no “gluten allergy,” but there are gluten-related disorders like celiac disease, wheat allergies, and non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Even though gluten disorders are real, the recent gluten-free fad has led to individuals misdiagnosing themselves. Getting it wrong can have health risks, so it’s smart to avoid self-diagnosis and get tested for celiac disease or food-related allergies.
What The Heck Is Gluten? To understand gluten disorders like celiac disease, we have first to understand gluten.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a combination of two proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye that gives dough its elasticity.
Is Gluten Good or Bad?
Gluten is not inherently good or bad (unless you are gluten sensitive), but it is present in a lot of the beer, bread, grains, and cereal we eat. One has to be careful on a gluten-free diet to get the right balance of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and macronutrients (fiber, carbs, protein, fat).
Can People Actually be “Allergic to Gluten”?
In common terms it’s ok, although confusing, to say you are “allergic to gluten”. In health science, words like allergy, sensitivity, and intolerance have specific meanings.
The Difference Between Food Allergies, Food Intolerance, and Food Sensitivity
A food allergy is a specific immune system response, food intolerance describes irritation and an inability to digest, and food sensitivity describes varying negative effects that aren’t allergy related.
Gluten Sensitivity Vs. Celiac Disease Vs. Gluten Intolerance
The proper term for being “intolerant to gluten”, when not discussing celiac or wheat allergy specifically, is “non-celiac gluten sensitivity” (or “non-celiac wheat sensitivity”).
- Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that makes people gluten intolerant.
- Wheat allergies are an allergic reaction to wheat thus all wheat (including gluten) should be avoided.
- Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is being gluten sensitive or intolerant to gluten.
Gluten Sensitivity Vs. Celiac Disease Vs. Gluten Intolerance.
FACT: People aren’t “allergic to lactose”, they are “lactose intolerant”. People aren’t “allergic to gluten”, they are “gluten intolerant”. It’s a matter of semantics in common language, but be glad your doctor and scientists know the difference.
Why Do People Think They are “Allergic to Gluten”?
Likely, people think they are allergic to gluten because: A) the media likes to spin the findings of studies into something sensational; B) celiac, wheat allergies, gluten sensitivity, and other allergies related to bread (grains, dairy, seeds) are really common; C) they are simply gluten intolerant to some extent.
A take on Gluten by SciShow.
TIP: Many other conditions (especially related to nuts, grains, and seeds) can be easily mistaken as “a gluten allergy” in self-diagnosis.
TIP: In order to be tested for celiac disease you must be eating gluten. This means you can’t actually be tested for celiac disease or a wheat allergy if you are on a gluten-free diet.
Are Some Gluten Disorders Psychological?
Given the popularity of the anti-gluten fad it is very likely some “gluten disorders” are a placebo effect (one study concluded that about 25% of self-diagnosed cases are misdiagnosed).
Still, it’s estimated that about 1 in 133 people have celiac disease, and 80% are undiagnosed. So the increased awareness is not as bad as some might insinuate.
Is Gluten Sensitivity Actually Real? This video only touches on a few bases, but importantly it questions the placebo aspect of gluten-free.
FACT: In a 2014 study of 248 men and women 1 of 4 respondents, who claimed to be gluten sensitive, had symptoms that were poorly controlled despite gluten avoidance. This, and other studies indicate that about 25% of people who think they are “allergic to gluten” are misdiagnosing themselves.
TIP: Some claim that gluten has a range of negative effects including contributing to neurological disorders. This shouldn’t be confused with “the placebo effect” which falls within the bounds of social science more than health science.
For a full breakdown of the Gluten facts and myths: see UCLA’s Celiac vs Gluten-Sensitivity vs Wheat Allergies.
Comparison of Gluten-Related Disorders (source)