What is the difference between an intolerance reaction and an allergic reaction?

Intolerance is not an allergic reaction. It is an abnormal physiological chemical reaction resulting from incomplete digestion of wheat proteins-here the body releases inflammatory mediators that are independent of the immune system. Wheat intolerance may seem allergy-like, but it will not trigger a life-threatening immunological response. It may trigger some common symptoms that involve the skin in the form of hives, eczema, and swelling; the gastrointestinal tract in the form of cramps, nausea, and vomiting; and the respiratory tract in the form of asthma. Other symptoms include bloated stomach, depression or mood swings, diarrhea, dizziness, joint and muscle aches, tiredness and lethargy, watery itchy eyes, and unexplained cough and runny nose.

Wheat allergy, however, involves the body’s adverse autoimmune reaction in response to one or more of the protein components of wheat to which the body is exposed: gliadin and gluteinin , both of which are fractions of the protein gluten. Gliadin is thought to do the damage to the intestinal lining; glutenin is thought to be associated with autoimmune skin diseases and asthma. Gliadin causes damage to the intestinal lining by eroding the villi and microvilli essential for digestion and absorption processes. This damage then increases the likelihood of partially digested gluten proteins passing into the bloodstream. Certain proteins cause our immune systems to react. Once an immune response has been initiated, inflammatory reactions can result in many digestive symptoms , flatulence, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, pain, etc. , and may also aggravate a host of other symptoms: tiredness, sweating, headaches, cramps, migraines, acne and boils, and eczema.

Some people’s digestive systems just cannot cope with these indigestible proteins. The immune system of these individuals sees one or more of the wheat proteins as “foreign” and produces the antibody immunoglobulin E (IgE). IgE binds to mast cells in the mouth, nose and gut, and causes the release of histamine that is responsible for the inflammation.

Wheat allergy produces allergic symptoms that are far more serious in nature than those brought on by wheat intolerance. Allergic reactions to wheat usually begin within minutes or a few hours after eating or inhaling wheat. In addition to digestive symptoms, true wheat allergy often results in other quite violent reactions , from swelling of the lips and tongue, or a red rash to, in extreme cases, fatal anaphylaxis , a sudden, severe, potentially fatal, systemic allergic reaction that can involve various areas of the body-such as the skin, respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract, and cardiovascular system. Additional symptoms can include asthma and hives.

Are You Really Allergic to Wheat? Is it Wheat Allergy or Wheat Intolerance?

People often confuse the terms wheat intolerance and wheat allergy as the same condition. True wheat allergy is extremely rare, but the number of people who believe they may suffer from wheat intolerance is rising. Wheat-based foods normally contain a mixture of ingredients, any of which could cause an adverse response. Reactions tend to be quick with only small amounts of the allergen required. Bodily reactions to wheat are relatively common in the community, since wheat is more likely to cause an allergic reaction than any other grain. The unpleasant symptoms some people experience after eating wheat may be due to one of three things:

  1. Intolerance reaction
  2. Allergic reaction
  3. Mal-absorption syndrome such as celiac disease

How Are Wheat Intolerance and Wheat Allergy Diagnosed?

If you suspect you have a problem with wheat or other grains, you should consult your health-care practitioner to ensure there is no underlying disease state and to confirm the diagnosis. The diagnosis may be easy if a person has the same reaction repeatedly after eating foods that contain wheat. More often the diagnosis is difficult, because wheat is usually consumed with other foods. Diagnosis usually entails clinical evaluation-medical history, family history, food history-supported by a simple blood test that can detect the presence of IgE.

Wheat intolerance will not show up with allergy testing and needs to be established through controlled eating trials. It is best to challenge with a food that only contains flour and water, as there are many ingredients in bread, biscuits and cakes that may cause a reaction besides wheat.

Treatment of Wheat Allergy and Wheat Intolerance

There is no medication for wheat intolerance. Three ways in which you can address wheat allergies and wheat intolerance are as follows:

  • Avoiding wheat and wheat products such as wheat starch, processed foods that contain starches, thickeners and modified starches, food additives containing modified starches, medications containing wheat fillers, and vitamin/mineral supplements containing wheat fillers. For example, eliminate from your diet cereals, baked goods (cakes, biscuits & pastries), chocolate, pancake and waffle mixes, pies, cookie, sauces and gravies, processed meats, breaded meats and meat casseroles, pastas, salad dressings, and soups. Alcoholic beverages such as beer, gin and some whiskeys may contain wheat. As food labeling may not indicate hidden sources of wheat in processed foods, the best way to be sure about what you eat is to purchase fresh, whole foods, and prepare your own meals. By not purchasing processed foods you have greater certainty and control over what you eat.
  • Researching the large selection of gluten-free/wheat-free cookbooks at your local library or health-food store to help you address the problems of baking. In addition, there are now large selections of gluten-free/wheat-free baking and soup mixes available in stores and online.
  • Doing a 30-day detoxification cleanse-one of the best medicines. A thorough detoxifying cleanse can help alleviate allergy symptoms by reducing the toxic overload of the wheat allergen. Choosing a program that contains a herbal/botanical fiber drink, a parasite cleanse, and an internal organ detoxification catalyst will maximize proper liver and kidney functions.