Celiac disease, wheat allergy, and gluten sensitivity: when gluten free is not a fad

JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr. 2012 Jan;36(1 Suppl):68S-75S. doi: 10.1177/0148607111426276.


As the gluten-free diet (GFD) gains in popularity with the general public, health practitioners are beginning to question its real health benefits. For those patients with celiac disease (CD), the GFD is considered medical nutrition therapy, as well as the only proven treatment that results in improvements in symptomatology and small bowel histology. Those with wheat allergy also benefit from the GFD, although these patients often do not need to restrict rye, barley, and oats from their diet. Gluten sensitivity is a controversial subject, where patients who have neither CD nor wheat allergy have varying degrees of symptomatic improvement on the GFD. Conditions in this category include dermatitis herpetiformis (DH), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and neurologic diseases such as gluten-sensitive ataxia and autism. It is important for patients and healthcare practitioners to understand the differences between these conditions, even though they may all respond to a GFD. Patients with CD can experience comorbid nutrition deficiencies and are at higher risk for the development of cancers and other autoimmune conditions. Those with wheat allergy and gluten sensitivity are thought not to be at higher risk for these complications. Defining the symptoms and biochemical markers for gluten-sensitive conditions is an important area for future investigations, and high-quality, large-scale randomized trials are needed to prove the true benefits of the GFD in this evolving field.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autistic Disorder / diet therapy
  • Autistic Disorder / pathology
  • Autoimmune Diseases / diet therapy
  • Autoimmune Diseases / physiopathology
  • Celiac Disease / diet therapy
  • Celiac Disease / pathology*
  • Dermatitis Herpetiformis / diet therapy
  • Dermatitis Herpetiformis / pathology
  • Diet, Gluten-Free*
  • Glutens / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Intestine, Small / pathology
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / diet therapy
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / pathology
  • Malnutrition / diet therapy
  • Malnutrition / physiopathology
  • Risk Factors
  • Wheat Hypersensitivity / diet therapy
  • Wheat Hypersensitivity / pathology*


  • Glutens