Celiac Disease vs. Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
Celiac Disease (CD) is a genetic disorder of the immune system affecting the lining of the small intestine. When people with CD consume gluten (the protein portion of grains like wheat, barley, and rye), the body responds by attacking the villi (small finger-like projections) of the small intestine. This leads to poor nutrient absorption.
There are over 300 symptoms associated with CD. Some of the more common symptoms are gastrointestinal upset (diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas), fatigue, headache, joint pain, depression, inability to concentrate, irritability, mouth sores, tingling or numbness in extremities, and skin rash or irritation. Of course, it’s really not uncommon for some people with CD to have no outward symptoms at all.
All those symptoms – or lack of them – make CD difficult to diagnose. Lots of symptoms mean lots of similarity between CD and other health issues. Common misdiagnoses are: Irritable Bowel Disorder (including Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis), chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and depression.
The first step to diagnosis of CD is to have blood (or serologic) tests, sometimes called a Complete Celiac Blood Panel. These tests check for certain antibodies (chemicals produced in response to gluten in someone with CD) in the blood. If a blood test reveals CD-specific antibodies, the next step is to have the only definitive diagnostic for CD, the endoscopy and biopsy.
In endoscopy, a very small camera attached to a thin flexible tube is inserted into the digestive tract through the mouth (a little uncomfy, yes… painful, not really). This allows the physician to view the lining of the small intestine to check for damage to the villi. A biopsy (tiny tissue sample) is sometimes performed so the villi can be examined more closely under a microscope.
The only treatment for CD is a 100% gluten-free diet. Any amount or form of gluten can damage the small intestine for a person with CD. Fortunately, there are LOTS of delish gluten free recipes for you in my Recipe Index! (You don’t even need to have CD or be gluten free to love these yummy dishes! Seriously… have you tried my award-winning Cornbread Recipe??) and, don’t forget to check out the Gluten-Free Recipe Section on the Gluten-Free Resource Directory!
Now, sometimes a person with symptoms similar to those of CD visits their doctor, the appropriate tests to check for CD are performed, and lo and behold, the results are negative. Not so long ago, that meant someone went home with no answers and no help.
That is, thankfully, no longer the case. Researchers now know Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) is a very real disease all on its own and can lead to many of the same negative symptoms experienced by those with CD.
The main difference between CD and NCGS is that NCGS is not a disease of the immune system and does not lead to damage of the small intestine.
While this is great news in some respects, make no mistake about it, whether an individual has CD or NCGS, they suffer from real, legitimate health issues for which a strict gluten free diet is the only effective treatment.
So, if you’ve been walking around saying things like “I don’t have Celiac disease; I’m only gluten sensitive” please stop now. Consider yourself and your condition validated by science and by me!
It is real and you DO need your gluten free diet to reclaim your health and transform your life. I understand and either way – CD or NCGS, I’m here to help you on your gluten free journey. It can be overwhelming at first, I know, but together, we can make it better every day. Promise. Just stick with me.
Remember, YOUR wellness is MY passion.
Wherever you are on your gluten-free journey to optimal health, I’m here to meet you where you are.