• Dr. Heather Robinson, ND

To Gluten or Not to Gluten: Is That the Question?

The gluten-free craze is upon us. We see prices increased for the coveted ‘GF’ products and blogs (including ours) are laden with promises of delicious gluten-free goodies. But what does gluten-free really mean and is it necessary for everyone or even at all?

What is Gluten? It is a combination of proteins found most commonly in wheat, barley, rye and can even sneak into surprising foods such as soy sauce! Rice, millet or quinoa do not contain gluten nor should oats, although to be absolutely sure it hasn’t been cross-contaminated, it is best to consume oats that specify they are gluten-free.

Difference Between Sensitivity, Intolerance and Allergy

Food Allergy: An allergy is an inappropriate immune response and has the involvement of IgE antibodies. This will usually elicit an immediate reaction and can vary from hives to an anaphylactic response. Gluten itself is not a typical allergen.

Food Sensitivity: This also involves an immune reaction, but elicits IgG or IgA responses in the body. This can be immediate or delayed which is why it can be difficult to determine what foods a person is sensitive to. Often a sensitivity arises in the body when gut integrity is compromised (leaky gut). When there is inflammation in the gut, the lining preventing large food particles escaping into the blood is compromised and this creates an immune reaction as our body recognizes these particles as foreign and harmful. This is extremely common and can manifest as chronic headaches, bloating/gas, skin conditions, diarrhea, fatigue etc. Gluten is a fairly common sensitivity these days partially due to it’s processing and prevalence of leaky gut. If it is a true sensitivity, once an individual heals the gut lining, they can re-introduce gluten and the reaction should be significantly decreased. To determine whether you have a food sensitivity, you can do an IgG food sensitivity test which tests over 100 foods, however the accuracy of the test is not perfect and can be misleading. The pros and cons should be discussed with an ND to see if it’s a right fit for you! Anyone can be sensitive to gluten, however not everyone is and moreover, not everyone has severe enough reactions to want to eliminate it.

Food Intolerance: There is no immune reaction, rather there is an enzyme that is lacking to metabolize a certain substance. For example, lactose intolerance means that an individual is lacking the lactase enzyme to break down lactose, causing an undesired response (gas/bloating, diarrhea). Similarly, if you have an intolerance to gluten, you are unable to break down those proteins, resulting in unfavourable symptoms, to say the least.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which the body attacks gluten as a major threat; this results in profound intestinal damage causing absorption and severe symptoms. This can be diagnosed through blood tests and an intestinal biopsy. In this case, being gluten-free is absolutely necessary for an individual’s health and comfort.


1. Sampson, Hugh A. "Update on food allergy." Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 113.5 (2004): 805-819.

2. GALANT, STANLEY P., JOSEPH BULLOCK, and OSCAR L. FRICK. "An immunological approach to the diagnosis of food sensitivity." Clinical & Experimental Allergy 3.4 (1973): 363-372.


4. Nanda, R., et al. "Food intolerance and the irritable bowel syndrome." Gut30.8 (1989): 1099-1104.

#gluten #celiac #naturopathicmedicine #sensitvity #intolerance #allergy #glutenfree #health


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Disclaimer: Any information on this website is for informational purposes only and are not intended to be used in place of professional medical advice.

Always seek the advice of a qualified health care practitioner with any questions or health concerns you may have.


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