What is gluten intolerance?

Gluten intolerance (GI) is an all encompassing term for coeliac disease, non-coeliac gluten sensitivity and wheat allergy. In other words, gluten intolerance is the manifestation of symptoms that are caused by any one of the gluten sensitivities.

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disorder. It is genetic but a person can carry the gene without ever developing the disease. It causes the gastrointestinal system to have an abnormal response to gluten, resulting in damage to the small intestine and the inability to efficiently absorb nutrients. Coeliac disease requires a strict gluten free diet as treatment.

Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is an immunological response to gluten that causes the symptoms of gluten intolerance, but it is a different response to those with coeliac disease because it doesn't cause tissue damage to the small intestine. Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity is the newest term for what was previously referred to as gluten intolerance. Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity requires a gluten free diet as treatment.

Wheat allergies, like other food allergies, are a reaction to one of the proteins in wheat. Different people react to different proteins. The body responds to wheat because it believes the protein is something it can't have, which causes the allergy symptoms. Symptoms don't usually last long and won't harm the body long term. Wheat allergies require a wheat free diet as treatment but not necessarily a gluten free diet (barley, rye and oats might be okay if they aren't contaminated by wheat).

Gluten intolerance refers to all of the above. So you are GF because you have NCGS, deeming you GI, do you follow?!

The symptoms

Gluten intolerance symptoms vary from person to person but some common symptoms include;

  • Abdominal pain and discomfort
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhoea
  • Wind
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue


If you have any of the above symptoms or suspect you may have a gluten intolerance, visit your doctor before embarking on a gluten free diet, as the presence of gluten in the body is very important for diagnosis of coeliac disease. The first point of call in diagnosing gluten intolerance is of course the exclusion of coeliac disease because it is an autoimmune disorder with the potential to cause further medical problems. Consult a medical practitioner to assist with proper diagnosis of gluten intolerance.