Did you remember to set your calendar reminders? May marks the Celiac Disease Foundation’s recognition of Celiac Disease Awareness Month and—while it’s not necessarily an occasion for raucous celebration—this month offers an important opportunity to shine a light on this somewhat-complicated autoimmune disease and some of the mysteries that surround it for those who may be experiencing symptoms. One mystery in particular that is worthy of exploration and increased awareness during Celiac Disease Awareness Month is non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), a condition that affects six times as many people as celiac disease.
NCGS was originally labeled to describe the effects of individuals who cannot tolerate gluten and experience symptoms similar to those with celiac disease yet lack the same antibodies and intestinal damage. However, in 2016, research conducted at Columbia University Medical Center confirmed that wheat exposure in this group of individuals is triggering a systemic immune reaction and accompanying intestinal cell damage, similar to that of celiac disease. The caveat is that they are not yet sure if gluten is the culprit. For this reason, some researchers are now comfortably referring to this condition more as non-celiac wheat sensitivity (NCWS).
Some of the common mutual symptoms of NCGS and celiac disease include:
- chronic fatigue
- brain fog
- joint pain
In order to diagnose NCGS, celiac disease and wheat allergy must first be ruled out. If NCGS is suspected, removing gluten would be recommended. If symptoms improve through the elimination of gluten, then gluten sensitivity is usually diagnosed. Unfortunately, as is the case with celiac disease, a gluten-free diet is currently the only treatment option for NCGS.
Because there is such a significant crossover of elements in the foods we eat, it can be challenging to pinpoint exactly what may be causing your digestive discomfort and symptoms, such as those associated with celiac disease or NCGS. Your healthcare practitioner may recommend an aggressive elimination diet to find the culprit of your distress; completely removing multiple common, irritating and inflammatory foods, then slowly introducing them back into your diet one at a time. But this approach can be time-consuming and inconclusive.
A more expedient and conclusive alternative would be a blood panel test for targeted food sensitivities. Cyrex Laboratories, a clinical laboratory specializing in functional immunology and autoimmunity, offers advanced, innovative tests designed to detect food sensitivities and monitor autoimmune reactivities and their possible triggers. The Array 3 – Wheat/Gluten Proteome Reactivity and Autoimmunity™ test is a comprehensive wheat and gluten immune-reactivity screening that helps patients identify if they have wheat or gluten sensitivity. Array 3 is the only wheat/gluten panel that assesses three antigen triggers of disorders and was developed to differentiate between the celiac manifestation and NCGS.
Testing would be a great place to start if you suspect you have a gluten-related condition. Talk to your qualified health care provider about any health-related concerns that you may have and testing that you may want to consider.
The mysteries surrounding gluten continue to be unraveled. While we do know that NCGS is not associated with hereditary markers, as is the case with celiac disease, there seem to be many more commonalities between the two conditions. With ongoing research and testing, we will continue to gain insight into NCGS, NCWS, celiac disease and exactly what differentiates these conditions. However, there’s a lot we’ve learned already—and Celiac Disease Awareness Month is a great opportunity for patients to look into celiac disease and NCGS if they feel they or someone they know may be dealing with a related condition.