What is gluten intolerance?

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Gluten intolerance affects a large proportion of the population. Yet many people who may be affected aren’t even sure what it is. This article sets out to explain what gluten intolerance is, how it can affect you, and, just as important, what it is not.

Let’s start by looking at what gluten intolerance is not. This may seem an odd place to start, but many people, even among the medical profession (who should know better) think that when people say they are gluten intolerant they mean they have an allergy to gluten.

Gluten intolerance is not an allergy. Neither are other forms of food intolerance. An allergy involves the immune system. Food intolerances do not. That does not mean that they cannot cause severe illness, just that they are not fixable by anti-histamines or other drugs, and that it’s extremely unlikely that a mouthful of pasta will result in you keeling over instantly (I bet that’s a relief). Unlike an allergy, food intolerance is caused by an inability to absorb or process a particular food correctly, leading to a buildup of certain toxins, which are damaging, but not generally immediately fatal.

So now we’ve got that out of the way, we can look at what gluten intolerance actually is. What it means is that the body is unable to deal with food containing gluten, and because of this it reacts in ways that range from uncomfortable to crippling, and even life-threatening if the cause is not removed.

The problem is that, barring some parts of Asia, almost all of us eat large quantities of gluten every day, day in and day out, and we have done since we started eating “proper” solid food. So if your body is not able to cope with gluten, every day, several times a day, it comes up against this irritant, and over time the situation becomes more and more intolerable.

The most extreme form of gluten intolerance is celiac disease. This is a dangerous disease, and sufferers must avoid all gluten altogether. Unfortunately, although there is a test available, it is not always completely accurate, so there may be people suffering from celiac disease who have not been diagnosed as such.

The rest of us, thankfully, will just get irritable bowel, aches and pains, depression or if we are unlucky, obesity. This is bad enough, for sure. Still, these problems go away if you eliminate gluten (if that’s what’s causing them), whereas celiac disease doesn’t.

Since there are no accurate tests available for gluten intolerance, you need to discover whether you are intolerant or not by experiment. If you suspect you may be, please see my article “How can you find out if you are gluten intolerant?” to learn how to go about this.

Now you know what gluten intolerance is, next time someone says it’s an allergy, you will be able to put them right!

I offer a wide range of food for special diets in my online shop.

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