Overview of Gluten Intolerance

wheat stalk with definition of gluten intolerance

Micah Young / Getty Images

If you've wondered if you have a problem with gluten, you've probably run across the term "gluten intolerance." You might even be a bit confused by it because people have used "gluten intolerance" at various times to mean different conditions, all of which have one thing in common: the person involved had a reaction after eating gluten.

There are, in fact, five different types of problems you can have with gluten. The best known of these is celiac disease. In years past, clinicians and researchers sometimes used "gluten intolerance" interchangeably with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder in which foods containing gluten trigger your immune system to attack the small intestine.

A Changing Definition

More recently, "gluten intolerance" was used by those both in and outside the medical community to describe the unpleasant symptoms that occur when people who do not have celiac disease nonetheless react to gluten-containing foods. But in this case too, "gluten intolerance" has fallen out of favor, and doctors now call this condition "non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS)." 

These days, the term "gluten intolerance" is considered to be non-specific and outdated. 

Over the years, the differing definitions of "gluten intolerance" have generated a fair amount of confusion both among physicians and among people who suffered from a gluten-related disorder.

Now, however, top researchers in the field have stated that they prefer the term "non-celiac gluten sensitivity" to other similar terms, including "gluten intolerance," for someone who gets symptoms from gluten but who ​does not have celiac disease or another gluten-related disorder.

To avoid confusion, these experts are urging the medical community to move away from the use of the term "gluten intolerance." There are better terms you can use to refer to a problem with gluten.

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