Hello everyone, and welcome back to Gluten Free Hannah!
If, like me, you’re relatively new to the world of being gluten free then it can be a little bit confusing. Suddenly lots of technical words are flying around and you’re not quite sure what they mean. For me, one of the biggest questions was what is the difference between having Coeliac Disease and being gluten intolerant, or sensitive to gluten.
My biopsy concluded that I don’t have Coeliac Disease, but an intolerance to gluten, also known as Non-Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS). If you want to read more about my diagnosis, you can find it here and here. From what I have read online, NCGS is a bit of a grey area and there is a lot of uncertainty around it. I am going to do my best to try to clear up a few basics between Coeliac Disease and gluten intolerances.
The most important difference between Coeliac Disease and NCGS is how your body reacts to gluten. Coeliac Disease is an autoimmune reaction, and a small amount of gluten can cause that person’s immune system to start attacking their small intestine. This can lead to serious gut damage and causes lack of nutrient absorption.
As for gluten sensitivity, the body regards gluten as an invader and reacts by inflaming the inside and outside of the digestive tract. The lining of the small intestine is not attacked, as it is with Coeliac Disease, and so it is less harmful to the gut.
If you have Coeliac Disease then any amount of gluten can trigger a reaction, even the smallest crumb. It is so important to be careful with cross contamination, and traces of gluten.
For NCGS, it is not certain how much gluten is needed to be consumed to feel the effects. This can change from person to person, depending on the severity of their gluten sensitivity. Whilst it is not as dangerous if a small bit of gluten is consumed, it can make someone feel equally as ill, even if it is not severely damaging internally.
One thing I learned from my doctor after my biopsy results was that NCGS may not be permanent. It may be that after a few years of being gluten free, you are able to tolerate gluten again. However, it is also possible that NCGS develops into Coeliac Disease. My doctor made it clear that there was no way of knowing which way it would go, if any. He could not give me any percentages or details on how many people started with a gluten intolerance then found they were fine with gluten a few years later, or how many people developed Coeliac Disease from a sensitivity to gluten. This is not the case for Coeliac Disease, as unlike gluten intolerances, it is irreversible.
The medical community believes that Coeliac Disease is a genetic condition, and you are more likely to develop it if there is a history of it in your family. Nevertheless, it is still possible to have Coeliac Disease if is not inherited. As for gluten sensitivity, there does not necessarily need to be a family history of it, and anyone can develop it at any time.
Both conditions have similar symptoms, including bloating, fatigue, stomach cramps and IBS. Although there is a wide range of possible symptoms, and not everyone has the same symptoms – some people don’t experience any at all. The symptoms of Coeliac Disease may not be any different from those of NCGS, and it can be difficult to distinguish between them from symptoms alone. The main difference is the internal damage that gluten causes in the gut if you have Coeliac Disease.
However, the one thing that is known for sure, is that the only cure for both is to be gluten free. So, whether you have Coeliac Disease or a gluten intolerance, we are all sharing the same gluten free world.
I really hope you found this post useful. One of the first things I wanted to know was the difference between Coeliac Disease and NCGS.
Obviously, I am not a specialist, this is just what I have found from doing some research and speaking to my doctor. If you would like some more information, I will leave some links to the websites I used below.
Until next time,