What Is Gluten Sensitivity?

Also known as gluten intolerance or non-celiac gluten sensitivity

Gluten sensitivity (gluten intolerance or non-celiac gluten sensitivity) involves having a minor adverse reaction after eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.

This is not the same as having celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes a severe reaction to the presence of gluten.

This article discusses the symptoms, testing, and dietary treatment for gluten sensitivity and outlines how it differs from celiac disease.

A woman cooking a meal at home

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Symptoms of Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity

Many gluten sensitivity symptoms mirror celiac disease symptoms, including:

These symptoms typically appear within hours or even a day after ingesting gluten. They tend to disappear when gluten is removed from the diet and avoided.


Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. It can also be present in other products, including supplements, medications, skin and hair products, and specific kinds of toothpaste.

Symptoms of Celiac Gluten Sensitivity

Gluten triggers a severe autoimmune response in people with celiac disease. The signs of this condition can look similar to non-celiac gluten sensitivity symptoms and typically include gastrointestinal symptoms such as:

Celiac gluten sensitivity can also come with symptoms such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Brain fog
  • Insomnia
  • Migraine or headaches
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Skin conditions
  • Joint and bone pain
  • Dental issues

Celiac disease symptoms cause actual damage to the small intestine, but gluten sensitivity does not.

What Causes Gluten Sensitivity?

Experts are still looking into what exactly causes gluten sensitivity. Unlike celiac disease, which prompts a specific immune system response and likely happens due to genetic and environmental factors, non-celiac gluten sensitivity is a little trickier to understand.

Some theories behind the cause of gluten sensitivity include a potential sensitivity to another carbohydrate instead of gluten—or a leaky digestive tract lining that may allow gluten and bacteria into the bloodstream.

Is Gluten Sensitivity Reversible?

Possibly. There seem to be notable differences between celiac disease, which requires a lifelong commitment to a gluten-free diet and other treatments, and gluten sensitivity, which is potentially not as permanent.

Some research shows that people following a gluten-free diet for a couple of years might change their bodies' gluten tolerance. Still, checking with a healthcare provider before changing your diet or medications is always a good idea.

How to Test for Gluten Sensitivity

Though there's no specific test for gluten sensitivity, there are some ways to help determine whether this might be your diagnosis.

Track Symptoms

If you notice uncomfortable (but not necessarily severe) symptoms after ingesting gluten, it might be time to start tracking your symptoms at home. You can do this by recording which foods you eat daily and highlighting when symptoms occur.

Even if you don't notice an obvious pattern at first, this information is helpful to bring to a healthcare provider as you narrow down the cause of your symptoms.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Is it gluten sensitivity or celiac disease? A healthcare provider can help you make an accurate diagnosis. This might involve:

  • A physical examination
  • An overview of your current symptoms and food journal
  • Celiac blood tests to rule out celiac disease
  • Biopsy of the small intestine, if necessary

Depending on the outcome, your healthcare provider might also refer you to a gastroenterologist (a doctor specializing in digestive system conditions).

Easing Into a Gluten-Free Diet

Treating gluten sensitivity means removing gluten from the diet. And making any changes to your current diet can be challenging, no matter what it is.

Fortunately, there are plenty of gluten-free and whole-food options that you might consider as you make this dietary transition, including:

  • Incorporating more fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Sticking to beef, poultry, pork, and seafood without marinades or added ingredients
  • Adding plain rice or quinoa in place of gluten starches
  • Trying potatoes and corn as complementary sides
  • Cooking or baking with flax, chia, or nut flour

If you're eating out or buying packaged foods at the grocery store, ask for entirely gluten-free dishes and carefully check all labels.

Eating gluten-free doesn't need to cost more. To make this diet more approachable cost-wise, consider:

  • Bringing food to gatherings where gluten is present on the menu
  • Checking with your grocery store to see if it tracks lists of available gluten-free products and narrowing down your options according to your budget
  • Taking advantage of farmers markets or other community food opportunities if available to you

Tips for Living With a Gluten Sensitivity

When diagnosed with gluten sensitivity, you can focus on coping and living well. Here are some options for doing so:

  • Consult with a professional dietitian (if accessible to you) for assistance with dietary changes
  • Remain active through routine exercise
  • Be mindful of everyday products that contain gluten, like medications and makeup products
  • Have an awareness of the potential emotional conditions linked to both non-celiac and celiac gluten sensitivity


Gluten sensitivity is when the body has an abnormal response to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Though symptoms of gluten sensitivity are similar to those of celiac disease, the latter is an autoimmune condition that requires lifelong care.

Researchers are still looking into what causes gluten sensitivity, but a healthcare provider can help provide a diagnosis. Treatment involves eliminating gluten from your diet and addressing specific symptoms as needed.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Cristina Mutchler
Cristina Mutchler is an award-winning journalist with more than a decade of experience in national media, specializing in health and wellness content.