Celiac disease, wheat allergy and gluten-intolerance are treated similarly, in that patients with these conditions must remove wheat from their diet. It is important to note, however, that there is a difference between these three medical problems. Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition, where the body’s immune system starts attacking normal tissue, such as intestinal tissue, in response to eating gluten. Because of this, people with celiac disease are at risk for malabsorption of food in the GI tract, causing
nutritional deficiencies. This can lead to conditions such as iron deficiency anemia and osteoporosis. Since a person with wheat allergy or gluten-intolerance usually does not have severe intestinal damage, he or she is not at risk for these nutritional deficiencies.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition, putting the patient at risk for other autoimmune conditions, such as thyroid disease, type I diabetes, joint diseases and liver diseases. Since wheat allergy and gluten intolerance are not autoimmune conditions, people who have food allergies and intolerances are not at increased risk to develop an autoimmune condition over the general
And finally, celiac disease involves the activation of a particular type of white blood cell, the T lymphocyte, as well as other parts of the immune system. Because of this, patients with celiac disease are at increased risk to develop GI cancers, in particular intestinal lymphomas. Because food allergies and intolerances do not involve this particular immune system pathway, and do not cause severe GI tract damage, these patients are not at increased risk for these cancers.
Thus, while celiac disease, wheat allergy, and gluten-intolerance may be treated with similar diets, they are not the same conditions. It is very important for a person to know which condition they have, as the person with celiac disease needs to monitor himself or herself for nutritional deficiencies, other autoimmune diseases, and GI cancers. In general,
the symptoms from food allergies and intolerances resolve when the offending foods are removed from the diet and do not cause permanent organ damage.