Explainer: What is Gluten Intolerance?

By Gary Adams, University of Nottingham and Stephen Harding, University of Nottingham

Gluten intolerance covers a range of gut problems caused by ingesting proteins found in wheat, barley, rye and in some cases, oats. The three main groups affected are those with a direct sensitivity to gluten, coeliac disease and people who are allergic to wheat. Although symptoms can appear similar and the terms are often used interchangeably, gluten intolerance isn’t the same as coeliac disease.

Coeliac disease is a serious life-long autoimmune condition of the small intestine, in which the body’s immune system attacks itself when someone with the condition eats gluten. This damages the healthy lining of the small intestine and stops nutrients being absorbed from food.

Gluten intolerance is also a permanent condition that damages the small intestine every time gluten is consumed, regardless of whether symptoms are present or not, but it is unclear whether the immune system is involved. Read the rest of this entry »