Wheat intolerance, known as coeliac disease, is an intolerance reaction caused when the immune system mistakes certain proteins in wheat as harmful and creates a defence system to fight them! The intestine is the first organ affected by this intolerance, reducing its ability to effectively absorb nutrients.
It is a health problem that is largely underdiagnosed and affects 1% of the population. This intolerance requires a strict, lifelong diet free from wheat flour and derivatives.
An allergy to wheat flour (involving IgE antibodies) can affect anyone who consumes products containing wheat. You can suffer from a respiratory allergy or a food allergy. The most common form is food allergy, which can occur in newborns as soon as they start breastfeeding, and means that the mother will have to remove wheat from her diet. The respiratory form is mainly seen in bakers. People with wheat allergy often react to closely related grains, such as barley and rye, and in rarer cases, to oats.
Wheat allergy symptoms usually develop within minutes of eating something containing wheat and include nausea and vomiting. You may also experience delayed symptoms such as hives, eczema and asthma.
A diagnosis is based on symptoms, skin prick tests, wheat-specific IgE tests and an oral food challenge test if there is no history of a severe reaction.
As with coeliac disease, a wheat allergy requires eating wheat-free foods. This type of diet is difficult and restrictive because most of our food contains traces of wheat and wheat derivatives.
The good news is that, unlike coeliac disease, an allergy to wheat flour can disappear when it is eliminated from your diet and wheat can therefore be reintroduced for most people.
Raffi Maghdessian, Manager, Nutrition Unit