Free From Gluten Yet? Celiac Disease vs. Non-Celiac Gluten Intolerance

As awareness about gluten has spread across the nation, we have received an influx of questions about Celiac Disease. The fact is less than 1% of the US population is known to suffer from Celiac, while it’s estimated that 10% or more suffer from a gluten sensitivity sometimes known as Non-Celiac Gluten Intolerance or NCGI.

So what are the differences between Celiac and NCGI?

  • Symptom Length: Celiac Disease is a disease of the small intestines due to a sensitivity to foods containing gluten. It affects the small intestine and keeps it from absorbing important nutrients. Symptoms vary, but may include diarrhea, fatigue, nausea and constipation. NCGI is a food intolerance (specifically intolerance to gluten) that causes similar symptoms, such as gassiness, abdominal pain, and diarrhea, but the symptoms will pass and are not believed to cause permanent damage.
  • Risk Factors: Because Celiac Disease keeps the body from absorbing important vitamins and minerals, it sometimes leads to more severe symptoms, such as cramps, mouth ulcers and nosebleeds. Celiac patients may also be more prone to serious conditions including cancer, iron deficiency anemia, infertility or osteoporosis. It would be highly unlikely to see any of these more serious risk factors in those suffering Non-Celiac Gluten Intolerance.
  • Heredity: Celiac is believed to be inherited, which means if a family member has it, you should probably be tested also. NCGI is not known to be a hereditary condition.
  • Testing: Blood tests are available to diagnose Celiac Disease, whereas the only way to test for NCGI is to remove gluten from the diet and monitor the effects.
  • Treatment: For both conditions, the only effective treatment is to eliminate gluten entirely from the diet. People who have Celiac Disease are sometimes additionally prescribed a regimen of vitamins and other supplements to compensate for the nutritional deficiencies inherent to the disease. While Celiac patients should be strictly gluten-free, some people with NCGI may be less sensitive to gluten then others, and should feel free to eat whatever amounts of gluten they are able without suffering symptoms.

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