What is the Difference Between Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity?

Celiac disease is an inherited, autoimmune condition triggered by the consumption of gluten, a protein found in wheat (including spelt and kamut), barley, rye and triticale. It affects nearly 1% of the population. When a person with celiac disease ingests gluten, his or her immune system responds inappropriately, creating inflammation and damage to the inner lining of the small intestine. This reduces the ability to absorb nutrients including iron, calcium, folate and vitamin D. The only treatment for celiac disease is a strict gluten-free diet (Health Canada, 2012).

Gluten sensitivity is not an autoimmune disorder, nor does it cause damage to the small intestine. Symptoms are highly variable, and are often similar to those of celiac disease, making diagnosis a challenge (Pulse Canada, 2011). Treatment is adherence to a gluten-free diet. The Centre for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland estimates that up to 8% of the population has some degree of sensitivity to gluten. This means that an additional 20 million Americans may benefit from gluten-free food products.

Health Canada. 2012. Celiac Disease. Published online at

Pulse Canada. 2011. Pulses and the Gluten-Free Diet. Published online at