What’s the difference between celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) or intolerance, as it is sometimes referred to? For one, celiac disease is a genetic, autoimmune disease that left untreated, damages the small intestine’s villi. Those are the hair-like structures that line your small intestine and help to absorb the nutrients from food. Celiac disease is triggered by exposure to gluten, but only in genetically predisposed individuals. A strict, lifelong diet, free of gluten, is enforced to control further damage. It affects 1% of the population.
Non-celiac gluten constitutes a separate condition, which exists alongside celiac and wheat allergies. It is a relatively new disorder. NCGS may also present with similar physical GI (gastrointestinal) symptoms like bloating, gas, and diarrhea after gluten is ingested. Experts recommend that you first get tested for a wheat allergy and for celiac disease. There are no recommended methods to test for non-celiac gluten sensitivity and biological markers (like blood tests) don’t currently exist. The only way to make a diagnosis of gluten sensitivity is to exclude other GI diseases. There is no immune damage to the intestinal lining (or villi) in NCGS, so malabsorption of nutrients should not be a problem unless there are more severe symptoms.
People do feel better after following a gluten free diet but they may not necessarily have to be on it for life. Meeting with a registered dietitian who specializes in GI disorders is highly recommended. Keeping a food log and noting GI symptoms can help healthcare professionals evaluate one’s diet and intolerance to gluten.