Gluten-Free LivingThe majority of people are self-diagnosing their gluten sensitivity. Is this valid? Are people over-diagnosing their problems with gluten? Is there such a thing as gluten sensitivity apart from celiac disease?

For a long time, most experts would say that you shouldn’t start a gluten-free diet without a confirmed celiac diagnosis because gluten was only an issue in those cases. Observant clinicians have disagreed and finally in 2011, a great study was published by some big names in the gluten field, showing that gluten-related disorders come in at least two forms: celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. (Search Gluten and BMC Med. 2011 Mar 9;9:23.)

To better understand the diagnosis problem, a short history is helpful. The first writings about the intestinal problems, related to diet, were in the first century A.D. The specific cause was unknown until the 1940’s, when gluten was finally identified. In 1980 it was generally accepted that about 1:5000 people had celiac disease. By 2003 that number had changed to 1:110, based on blood tests that are known to correlate well with positive intestinal biopsies. At that time most experts considered celiac disease to be the only form of gluten sensitivity.

In 1998 a neurologist in England, M. Hadjivassiliou, began publishing studies about gluten sensitivity and the neurological implications. By 2002 or so, he departed from talking about celiac disease and began to reference certain types of brain disorders that he could identify with imaging studies. He would do imaging studies on people who had problems like migraine headaches, identify the brain lesions, put people on a gluten-free diet for about a year, and then redo the imaging studies. He found that about 7 in 8 people had a reversal of the brain lesions, along with a resolution of symptoms.

So now we have excellent and varied scientific information about gluten sensitivity that supports what many of you have known all along, that is you don’t have to have a celiac diagnosis to suffer adverse effects from dietary gluten and therefore, you will greatly benefit from a gluten-free diet, too. If you are gluten sensitive and continue to eat gluten, you are subject to a wide range of autoimmune and other disorders that increase your risk of death at every age, from whatever people die from, will be the same as a celiac patient.

At we recommend clinical lab testing to learn if you are a candidate for a gluten-free diet. Which tests we run depend on the clinical presentation and your budget. You can read more about this on our web site’s gluten resource page.

What’s different about non-celiac gluten sensitivity according the previously mentioned study?

  Celiac Disease Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
Intestinal Permeability Increased Normal or Decreased
IL-6 and IL-21 Increased Normal or Decreased
TLR-2 Normal Increased
FOX3P Normal Decreased

Those last three rows are cytokines that the immune system uses for communication and are good indicators of certain types of disorders. Watch for subsequent articles on the latest in diagnostic techniques.