by Richard Cawte

Tales of a Gluten-Intolerant Coeliac – Part 3.


I was lucky to be diagnosed with coeliac disease when I was just a few months old. The reason for the diagnosis was that I had an acute reaction – vomiting and diarrhoea – to the first rusk/s I was given. Even so it took a fortnight of tests in hospital for the diagnosis to be reached.

What wasn’t established was that as well as having Coeliac disease, I was also intolerant to glutens in other grains. So, whilst my Mom cut out wheat and rye from my diet, I continued to eat oats and sometimes even barley.

I remember my Mom remarking how I often would have big black semi-circles under my eyes, even when I was very young. We know now that this is one of the many symptoms of gluten intolerance, but back then we didn’t.

In fact, oats were one of the staple alternatives that doctors advised me to eat. Later in life I began to steer clear of oats (which wasn’t easy because I loved a bowl of hot porridge with brown sugar on a cold winter’s morning) because I realised they made me feel bloated. I’d never liked barley so that wasn’t such a wrench!

So how do you know whether you are Coeliac, Gluten intolerant, or both?

To answer that, let’s make a clear distinction between the two conditions.

Definition of Coeliac Disease: an allergy to specific proteins in wheat, rye and barley causing an immune reaction in the small intestine. Definition of Gluten Intolerance: an inability to digest gluten.

The big difference between the two is that gluten intolerance is NOT a disease. It is an inability to easily digest the proteins that are found in grains.  

Why is this important? 

If you have an acute allergic response, you will be forced to change your diet immediately. I know people who are so allergic that they only have to touch the source of the allergy to break out in rashes or boils. In some cases their oesophagus swells so much that they cannot breathe. In these cases, there is no choice but to act.

Delayed Hypersensitivity. 

If your intolerance is mild, you may be able to live with it for some time (many years in some cases). This is called Delayed Hypersensitivity. So, you can eat grains and “get away” with it, because you don’t have the acute reaction that an allergy provokes. There is, however, a long term price to pay for this.

Long term effects of eating gluten if you are gluten intolerant. 

If you cannot digest grains easily, what happens is that bits of these grains remain in your gut. After a while they begin to putrefy.

In other words, you have garbage rotting inside you. Pretty gross really. Bacteria just love to hang out and multiply wherever there is rotting matter. If you continue to eat the grains that your body cannot digest well, more and more bacteria emerge.

We all need bacteria, but when we have an imbalance in the types of bacteria present in our gut this creates a chemical reaction that ultimately causes inflammation of gut lining which in turn will lead to tissue damage.

It is this inflammation and subsequent tissue damage that can cause not just coeliac disease, but many other diseases as well (see 33 Reasons for going gluten-free for a list of some of these).

Think of it like a tree. The trunk of the tree is Gluten Intolerance and each branch is one of the conditions or diseases that stem from it. In other words, you can be gluten intolerant without having coeliac disease, but it’s not possible to have coeliac disease without being gluten intolerant.

This is why it is so important to find out whether you are gluten intolerant, rather than simply having the medical test for coeliac disease. Bear in mind that if you are gluten intolerant it is highly likely (some say certain) that your children will also be. I have three children, each of whom is gluten intolerant to some degree, but only one of whom is medically diagnosed as having coeliac disease. You’ll be doing them a favour if you keep them off grains too.