Celiac Versus Gluten Sensitivity

The following is a guest post from Dr. Daniel Schlenger, D.C.

The majority of people are self-diagnosing their gluten sensitivity. Is this valid? Are people over-diagnosing their problems with gluten? Is there such a thing as gluten sensitivity apart from celiac disease?

For a long time most experts would say that you shouldn’t start a gluten free diet without a confirmed celiac diagnosis because gluten was only an issue in those cases. Observant clinicians have disagreed and finally in 2011, a great study was published by some big names in the gluten field showing that gluten-related disorders come in at least two forms, celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.  Search Gluten and BMC Med. 2011 Mar 9;9:23 for more information.

To better understand the diagnosis problem, a short history is helpful. The first writings about the intestinal problems related to diet were in the first century A.D.  The specific cause was unknown until the 1940’s when gluten was finally identified.

In 1980 it was generally accepted that about 1:5,000 people had celiac disease. By 2003 that number had changed to 1:110 based on blood tests that are known to correlate well with positive intestinal biopsies.  At that time most experts considered celiac disease to be the only form of gluten sensitivity.

In 1998 a neurologist in England, M. Hadjivassiliou, began publishing studies about gluten sensitivity and the neurological implications.  By 2002 or so, he departed from talking about celiac disease and began to reference certain types of brain disorders that he could identify with imaging studies.

He would do imaging studies on people who had problems such as migraine headaches.  He would identify the brain lesions, put people on a gluten-free diet for about a year and then redo the imaging studies. He found that about 7 in 8 people had a reversal of the brain lesions along with a resolution of symptoms.

So now we have excellent and varied scientific information about gluten sensitivity that supports what many of you have known all along, that you don’t have to have a celiac diagnosis to suffer adverse effects from dietary gluten and therefore, you will greatly benefit from a gluten-free diet too.

If you are gluten sensitive and continue to eat gluten, you are subject to a wide range of autoimmune and other disorders that increase your risk of death at every age from whatever people die from, the same as a celiac patient.

At OVitaminPro.com we recommend lab testing to learn if you are a candidate for a gluten-free diet. Which tests we run depend on the clinical presentation and your budget. You can read more about this on our web site’s gluten resource page.

What’s different about non-celiac gluten sensitivity according the previously mentioned study?

Celiac Disease Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
Intestinal Permeability Increased Normal or Decreased
IL-6 and IL-21 Increased Normal or Decreased
TLR-2 Normal Increased
FOX3P Normal Decreased

Those last three rows are cytokines that the immune system uses for communication and are good indicators of certain types of disorders. Watch for subsequent articles on the latest in diagnostic techniques.

Daniel Schlenger, DC, DACNB
Diplomate American Chiropractic Neurology Board
30 Years of Clinical Experience
Faculty of Online Continuing Education
Family including children and grandchildren all gluten free


This post may contain affiliate links. See my disclosure policy for more information.


  1. says

    I think it’s also important to still consider whether we are skilled enough at diagnosing celiac disease… autoimmune diseases sometimes move slowly, and can be hard to catch in bloodwork. Why do the positive results correlate best to the most badly damaged intestinal biopsies? Shouldn’t we be looking for markers of early disease?

    I, for example, had negative bloodwork (2004), negative EMA (early 2010), inconclusive/positive/negative celiac panel (mid-2010), positive genetics, and finally just started the diet due to increasing severity of symptoms. If I had continued with a SAD diet, would a biopsy have come back positive in 6 months? I believe so, but I wasn’t willing to wait any longer.

  2. Joan says

    I have auto-immune hypothyroiditis and was advised because of a strong family history of AI illness, to try a gluten free diet. I also am taking Selenium and Iodine drops. As a result of these changes, I have lost 25 lbs since July, 2011.

  3. Steph says

    I am not diagnosed, I found my way to GF via a lifestyle change to manage my PCOS. I was also experience other signs of autoimmune disease-rosacea flared up out of control, allergies to my surroundings increasing yearly, as well as early signs of what seemed like fibromyalgia. I felt SO much better within a week of GF eating, the exhaustion and joint pain were gone. 9 weeks GF and my allergies have eased considerably and rosacea has mostly cleared up. My diet has been contaminated 3 times in 9 weeks and the effect is immediate-fatigue hits, joint pain is back and brain fog sets in. I hope that research and the *experts* will soon support the choices made by we self-diagnosing gluten sensitives.

  4. says

    I had a negative celiac test, but I felt a million times better cutting out gluten. My doctor just said “well, if you feel better off of it, don’t eat it.” It’s frustrating, but I’d rather not feel awful!

  5. Jennifer says

    My daughter was diagnosed with Celiac almost 8 years ago.
    About four years ago, after experiencing all kinds of joint pain, fatigue, and low blood pressure I saw a Rheumatoid specialist in Hong Kong.
    As soon as he heard my daughter had Celiac he said, “cut the gluten”. Within three months I was feeling like new! If I do have something with gluten in it, I feel it the next day in my joints.
    Was I ever “tested”? No, but this doctor immediately put two and two together. He also told me that he tells all he rheumatoid patients to stay away from gluten. It’s not good for you.
    So, I think, if you feel better not eating gluten, then don’t eat it, even if you don’t have official tests to confirm it.

  6. Megan says

    My two daughters and husband are off gluten and dairy (husband corn too) we did the GFCF diet because my oldest daughter has Down syndrome and Autism and youngest was diagnosed with Autism and then went on the diet and then undiagnosed. I myself have AI Sjogren’s, elevated RF, and Raynaud’s. I am going to go off gluten after reading all these posts (will also make cooking easier!) and we will have our 6 year old son go off gluten too.

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