Wheat problem: celiac disease, intolerance, allergy?

Many people have the feeling that they tolerate wheat or its ingredient - gluten - poorly. That can be a fallacy, but it doesn't have to be. What is behind the complaints

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Wheat has a bad reputation these days. Likewise gluten, part of wheat. Many people consider grain to be fattening food, a food that fuels a wide variety of diseases and which is difficult to tolerate anyway. The food industry has jumped on this bandwagon, as has media companies.

Is it hype? Moneymaking? Or do some people really have a problem with wheat? No doubt there are. Celiac disease, in English: gluten intolerance, is an autoimmune disease that is triggered by gluten. Gluten is the sticky protein that gives cereals such as wheat, spelled, rye and barley their sticky properties and makes their dough so smooth. "About one percent of the population has celiac disease," says Professor Detlef Schuppan, gastroenterologist at the Mainz University Hospital and the US Harvard Medical School.

Professor Detlef Schuppan, University of Mainz

© W & B / Bert Bostelmann

Celiac disease: a disease with many faces

If the mucous membrane of the small intestine comes into contact with gluten, an immune reaction is triggered. Defense cells migrate into the mucous membrane and release inflammatory substances. The inflammation causes the mucous membrane to atrophy over time, which can lead to fewer nutrients being absorbed. The resulting deficit and the constant inflammation can trigger a number of complaints and secondary diseases.

Celiac disease can cause diarrhea, gas, and abdominal pain. But it can also manifest itself through weakness, tiredness, depression, weight loss and numerous other symptoms. Sometimes it goes undetected for decades.The doctor can usually prove this gluten intolerance well. Therapy currently consists of a lifelong, strictly gluten-free diet.