What is the difference between gluten intolerance and gluten sensitivity?

Gluten-free diets and products are becoming more popular as a result of increasing sensitivity or even intolerance to gluten or wheat-containing food. It is however important to determine whether you are intolerant or allergic to the wheat protein or if it’s a matter of sensitivity.

Gluten intolerance or celiac disease (gluten-sensitive enteropathy), sometimes called sprue or coeliac, is a genetic, immune reaction to eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. If you have celiac disease, eating gluten triggers an immune response in your small intestine. Over time, this reaction damages your small intestine’s lining and prevents absorption of some nutrients such as iron, calcium and many others (malabsorption). This condition is hereditary, and the symptoms are managed with a maintained gluten-free diet.

Gluten sensitivity, also known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), or non-celiac wheat sensitivity (NCWS), is not well defined as of yet. This condition may have an immune component but is still being investigated. The symptoms can be managed and even treated by initiating a gluten-free diet.

Wheat allergy can be defined as an adverse immunologic reaction to wheat proteins and shares symptoms with the other gluten-related disorders, but is usually characterised by skin conditions.