Celiac vs Gluten Sensitiviy – What is the Difference?

By Donna Duseigne,

Naturopath and owner of Viva Santé

We are hearing a lot of talk about gluten sensitivity these days.  I would like to help you to better understand the difference between celiac disease and gluten sensitivity (GS).  If you suspect that you have an issue when eating foods that contain gluten, the first thing you should do is ask your doctor to do a tTG tissue transglutaminase antibody test.  This will help you determine if you need to do more testing for celiac disease or if you definitely do not have celiac.  Having celiac disease means that your small intestine is being destroyed by gluten, which is a protein found in wheat base flours, barley and rye.  In this case the adaptive immune system is fighting your body’s own tissues, creating villous atrophy.  That means that the many finger-like villi which coat your small intestine and which are responsible for absorbing all your nutrients from the food that you eat, have been destroyed.  It also means that it is critical for you to remove ALL gluten from your diet.

Gluten sensitivity is also known as gluten intolerance or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.  Although this is an under-diagnosed disorder, it is at the root cause of many chronic illnesses in many people and if left untreated, can have devastating consequences.  Unfortunately gluten intolerance is not recognized as a problem in the current medical model.  For people suffering from GS, the good news is that there is a lot of research taking place all around the globe, providing answers as to how and why gluten can make us sick.

Dr. Alessio Fasano, a pediatric gastroenterologist  is one of the foremost researchers on celiac disease and GS.  In early 2011, in a landmark study on gluten sensitivity, Dr. Fasano concluded that GS represents a completely different condition from celiac disease and that most people who suffer from GS will never develop celiac.  In GS, the innate immune system responds to gluten ingestion by fighting the gluten directly, creating chronic inflammation both inside and outside the digestive system.

If you are gluten intolerant, you are not able to fully digest this gluey gluten protein.  This undigested protein is seen as a foreign invader in the body so the immune system sets up a defensive attack causing a cascading inflammatory response.  Imagine that the wall of your intestine is like an impermeable rubber, preventing any leakage into your blood stream.  These undigested proteins tear holes in this lining, allowing these undigested proteins to sneak into the system.  Some populations are consuming as much as 50g of gluten per day, as they may be eating gluten at every meal and every snack, launching an immune system response each time!  This chronic inflammation can lead to problems not only in the digestive tract, but also in the entire body.  The symptoms of GS can be severe, mild or even absent.  Some of the symptoms of gluten intolerance are:

Digestive symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, bloating, reflux, colitis and cramping

Hormonal imbalances such as hypothyroidism and infertility

Skin disorders such as eczema and acne


Joint pain



Brain fog and attention deficit symptoms

Adrenal fatigue

Weight gain


Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue

If you suspect that you have a gluten intolerance and you have ruled out celiac disease, how can you find out for sure?  Fortunately, there is a test called the ImuPro IgG type III food intolerance testing that picks up the antibodies generated after the consumption of foods, in this case gluten, and provides a diagnosis as to the body’s ability to tolerate them.  IgG mediated food allergies or intolerances are delayed reaction allergies and thus relatively difficult to perceive as they declare themselves between a few hours up to 3 days after having come into contact with a food allergen. Up to 300 food items can be tested.  Many insurance companies cover up to 80% of the cost of this blood test.  This test, offered and analyzed by medical lab L.S.I.A. in Pierrefonds, can identify which foods you may be intolerant to.  As we are a partner of this lab, you can pick up a test kit at Viva Santé and be well on your way to resolving a number of health issues that have, until now, gone without a solution or been misdiagnosed as something else.  Once you know what you are intolerant to, the real work begins and you will need to consult with someone with the expertise to guide you through the maze of possible solutions.

One question that many people ask is: Can I ever eat gluten again?  According to the many doctors and scientific researchers doing the in depth research on GS, the answer is probably not.  Dr. Tom O’Bryan has created the hugely popular Gluten Summit where he organizes the most knowledgeable researchers on this topic each year to conduct a one week webinar which is FREE.  According to Dr. O’Bryan, with just the occasional relapse, with just one wheat cracker, the mucosal lining cannot heal.  His analogy is to imagine a football field filled with back to back mouse traps, all cocked with a white ping pong ball.  If you throw another ping pong ball into the field, you end up with a cascade reaction of all the mouse traps going off and all the ping pong balls going up in a flurry.  This is what happens in your body, with cascading inflammation, when there is an exposure to gluten.

One of the biggest challenges facing those with a GS is trying to avoid gluten completely so that the body can heal.  Gluten is found in most processed foods but also in sausages, soya sauce, ice cream and licorice!  You must learn how to carefully read all food labels.  The good news is that we are seeing more gluten-free foods and ingredients in our grocery stores and even in restaurants.  As an example, Louise Sans Gluten, is a store in Dorval dedicated to gluten free.  Downtown you will find delicious food and great cupcakes at Café Verdure which is not only gluten-free, but also vegan.

You can find out more about the gluten summit by going to www.theDr.com.  Also, if you are interested in knowing about all of the latest research available on celiac disease and gluten intolerance, Dr Fasano has written “A clinical guide to Gluten-Related Disorders” targeted especially to primary health care providers interested in knowing more about this topic.

Knowing  which foods you need to avoid is only the first step, finding out what you can reliably turn to as an alternative is the real challenge.  This is where the experts at Viva Santé become a real source of knowledge.  Start by acquiring a blood test kit for the LSIA type III food intolerance testing by calling us at Viva Santé at (514)624-6382.