Wheat Allergy and Gluten Intolerance

All you have to do is go to the grocery store and see all the gluten-free options on the shelves to know that fewer people can tolerate wheat and gluten. While the science behind this phenomenon is still being studied, here are a few theories that may help explain it:

Wheat Allergy and Gluten Intolerance

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1. Altered crops. Wheat grain has been changed to be more drought-resistant and easier to bake. But while the grain has evolved, our stomachs have not, and many people struggle to digest the modified grain efficiently.

2. Hyper-hygiene. With the advancement of different cleaning products and processes, we live in an uber-clean environment. Some scientists believe that it’s so clean that it has robbed our immune systems of the chance to learn to discern between good and bad elements. Thus, the body may perceive something as harmless as wheat protein as an enemy invader in the same class as germs or bacteria and react to it by releasing chemicals that cause allergy symptoms.

3. Too much of a good thing. Bread and other wheat-based foods can be delicious and comforting, which may explain why we eat so much wheat. Back in the hunter-gatherer days, our ancestors’ diets consisted of more protein and nutrients from plants other than wheat. Some scientists believe that our bodies aren’t yet ready to eat the large amounts of wheat that we expose it to.

4. Antibiotics. Doctors have been very generous with antibiotics in recent years, and many of us consider them the “cure-all” for a wide range of different illnesses. Unfortunately, antibiotics can attack microbes that facilitate good digestion. With these microbes wiped out, our body loses its ability to break down foods—including wheat—properly.

If you develop health problems after eating gluten or wheat, here are a few things you should know. First of all, though some people use the terms wheat and gluten interchangeably, they are actually different. Gluten is a mixture of proteins found in wheat. It is also found in oats, barley, and rye. Wheat always contains gluten, but not all gluten is from wheat.

Gluten intolerance and wheat allergy are also commonly confused, but they are two distinct conditions. Here’s a closer look:

Gluten Intolerance

With gluten intolerance, also known as celiac disease, the small intestine becomes hypersensitive to gluten. Gluten intolerance is a serious auto-immune disorder and results in damage to the lining of the small intestine. As a result, people have difficulty absorbing nutrients. Symptoms include burping or gas, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, heartburn, nausea, and vomiting. Many people also experience fatigue, bone or joint pain, and weight loss.

Wheat Allergy

Wheat allergy is caused by an overreaction of the immune system to various wheat proteins. The body gets confused and thinks that the proteins are bad. It then unleashes chemicals like histamine into the body. These chemicals can cause hay fever, gastrointestinal discomfort, wheezing, and skin rashes.

If you suspect that you have either of these conditions, speak to a physician. If it is determined that you have a wheat allergy, ask your doctor about sublingual immunotherapy for wheat allergy treatment.

About The Author

Stuart H. Agren, M.D.

Stuart H. Agren, M.D. completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Utah and went on to earn his Doctor of Medicine from Tulane University School of Medicine in 1974. He completed additional training at L.D.S. Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah and then established his private medical practice starting in 1975. Dr. Agren completed a mini-residency in Industrial Medicine at the Robert Johnson School of Medicine at Rutgers University and also completed training to become a certified Medical Review Officer.

Dr. Agren was the Medical Director at TRW and McDonnell Douglas in Mesa, Arizona and at Stauffer Chemical and Kennecott Copper in Salt Lake City, Utah. He also served as an adjunct faculty member at Arizona State University.

In his private medical practice, Dr. Agren specialized in family practice and allergy. In his work as a private practice allergist, he was one of the first doctors in the country to prescribe sublingual immunotherapy to his patients as an alternative to subcutaneous immunotherapy (allergy shots). He has also been a trailblazer in the field of food allergy treatment and research, developing a program to treat multiple food allergies simultaneously using sublingual immunotherapy. Dr. Agren has been featured on local CBS, NBC, and ABC news affiliates and won the peer-nominated “Top Doc” award from Phoenix Magazine.

After 20 years in private practice, Dr. Agren became the Founder and President of AllergyEasy, which helps primary care physicians around the country offer allergy testing and sublingual immunotherapy treatment to their patients. Over 200 physicians in over 32 states use the AllergyEasy program to help their patients overcome environmental and food allergies and asthma.