Courtesy Kitchener-Waterloo Chapter Newsletter
There are a lot of myths out there about what celiac disease is, or what non-celiac gluten sensitivity is, but the one I come across most often is the mysterious “gluten allergy”. That may be an easy way to characterize celiac disease to “get the message across” to restaurant wait staff, but allergies and celiac disease do not even involve the same immune system.
“Gluten” is a collective noun – a word that describes a group of several different proteins: secalin in rye, horedin in barley, and glutenin in wheat, among others. Since all the proteins lead to the same reaction in someone with celiac disease, it’s easier to use one simple word, “gluten”.
People with a wheat allergy might be fine with gluten but there are three other classes of proteins in wheat that can trigger their allergic reaction. Recent Canadian research suggests that about 0.2% of the population has a wheat allergy, about 5 times fewer that are believed to suffer with celiac disease.
You can have celiac disease, you can have nonceliac gluten sensitivity, you can have a wheat allergy, or you can have dermatitis herpetiformis. But a gluten allergy? As far as we know, such a condition does not actually exist. Unless you’ve engaged in scientific testing, with your response to pure gluten (not gluten that comes as part of wheat, rye or barley), how could you know?
That’s why wheat, and not gluten, is listed as a priority “allergen” on food labels. Gluten labelling is of course critical for us as celiacs, but for people with allergies, wheat is the one we can identify with. But remember, celiac is an autoimmune disease, nothing like an allergy and should not be confused as such.