Non-Celiac-Gluten Sensitivity

One topic I often get questions about is


.  Ten years ago, most of us didn’t know what it was but now “gluten” is quite the buzzword.  Even if you don’t understand what “gluten” actually means, you have probably seen menus and products that are free of it.  It is probably safe to say every person in the U.S. knows someone who gets sick after eating it.  It’s no wonder since research estimates 18 million Americans have non-celiac gluten sensitivity! 

Let’s be clear…there is a difference between celiac’s disease and gluten sensitivity.  I’m referring to non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS).  Gluten is a protein found in wheat, and similar trouble-causing proteins are also found in rye, barley, and triticale.

Researchers are just beginning to explore non-celiac gluten sensitivity, so I will do my best to summarize what we know to date.

What is it? 

  • Non-celiac gluten sensitivity describes those individuals who cannot tolerate gluten and experience symptoms similar to those with celiac disease but yet who lack the same antibodies and intestinal damage as seen in celiac disease. 
  • NCGS does not appear to be genetically based and unlike celiac disease, a lab test can’t diagnose NCGS. 
  • Diagnosing it involves ruling out celiac’s and a wheat allergy followed by an elimination diet and then a gluten-challenge. 
  • If symptoms improve after eliminating gluten, it’s likely you have NCGS.

What are the symptoms of NCGS?


  • As far as symptoms go, there is some overlap with celiac disease; however, according to recent research, non-intestinal symptoms are predominant with NCGS.  
  • Symptoms include headaches, tingling/numbness in the legs, arms or fingers, “foggy brain,” and joint pain.  The symptoms typically appear hours or days after gluten has been eaten. 



  • The only treatment of these yucky symptoms is a strict, lifelong, 100% gluten-free diet.

Does having NCGS increase your risk of developing other autoimmune disorders? 

  • Research has found celiac disease is associated with other autoimmune disorders and neurological conditions like headaches and peripheral neuropathy.  
  • When it comes to NCGS, very little is known, but the research that does exist suggests NCGS is not likely to be associated with other autoimmune conditions, but this is clearly a work in progress.

Bottom Line: 

There is plenty of room for more research about this topic, but ultimately a strict, lifelong, 100% gluten-free diet is recommended.  Consider receiving nutrition counseling from a registered dietitian to ensure you are keeping a healthy, balanced diet.

In Health and Happiness,

Kelly Harrington, MS, RD

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods



2.  Sapone et al. Spectrum of gluten-related disorders: consensus on new nomenclature and classification.  BMC Medicine.  2012,10:13 

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