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Gluten is a protein in wheat, barley, and rye that can cause uncomfortable gut symptoms in some people. At-home gluten intolerance tests check for the presence of antibodies associated with celiac disease, which shares some similarities with gluten intolerance. But these tests will not detect nonceliac gluten sensitivity.

This article explores the differences between gluten intolerance, an allergy, and celiac disease. It also lists food sensitivity tests that are available online.

The ACAAI reports that there is no such thing as a gluten allergy. Gluten intolerance is not an allergy. And the term “gluten allergy” is often confused with a wheat allergy.

Three different conditions can cause symptoms of gluten intolerance:

  • Wheat allergy: A wheat allergy is caused by an immune response to wheat grain, not gluten. It is most common in children.
  • Celiac disease: Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune condition that damages parts of the intestine responsible for absorbing nutrients.
  • Nonceliac gluten sensitivity: Nonceliac gluten sensitivity is a syndrome that causes problems with the intestines. These issues are not caused by a wheat allergy or celiac disease.

As the Celiac Disease Foundation notes, people with gluten sensitivity may experience symptoms similar to those of celiac disease. However, they may not test positive for celiac disease on home gluten intolerance tests.

This is because people with nonceliac gluten sensitivity do not produce the antibodies associated with celiac disease. These are the antibodies that home tests look for.

The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI) reports that few people with gluten intolerance symptoms have celiac disease.

Causes of gluten intolerance

Researchers are still investigating the exact cause of this gluten intolerance, and a 2015 study points out that the name “nonceliac gluten sensitivity” may be changed if scientists discover that the underlying issue is a dietary protein other than gluten. This highlights the need for further research.

A 2018 study also describes the conflicting evidence about the cause of nonceliac gluten sensitivity. The researchers observe that the cereal protein compound amylase-trypsin inhibitor or fermentable oligo-, di-, and mono-saccharides and polyols, known as FODMAPs, may be responsible for the symptoms of the sensitivity.

The 2015 study suggests that if the symptoms are due to reactions to proteins such as amylase-trypsin inhibitor, the name of this condition could be changed to nonceliac wheat sensitivity.

In a 2016 study, researchers found a connection between immune system responses and damage to the intestinal lining in people who reported nonceliac gluten sensitivity. The researchers found that levels of soluble CD14 and lipopolysaccharide-binding protein in the blood were significantly increased in this population.

The researchers also noted that levels of circulating fatty acid-binding protein 2 also increased when study participants consumed gluten and decreased when they stopped. This protein is a biomarker that indicates damage to the intestinal lining.

Diagnosing gluten intolerance

Gluten sensitivity can be difficult to diagnose. It requires a person to cut gluten from their diet for 6 weeks and have their symptoms monitored regularly. After this 6-week period, a person can reintroduce gluten into their diet and see if their symptoms return or worsen.

The ACAAI reports that there is no test for gluten intolerance and confirms that allergists cannot help manage the symptoms.

Symptoms and signs of gluten sensitivity may include:

A person with a wheat allergy may have different symptoms.

A wheat allergy can cause:

Can a person suddenly develop intolerance?

The exact cause of gluten sensitivity is unclear. It may be possible for a person to have a sudden onset of symptoms after consuming a triggering food.

But sudden or new symptoms may result from another undiagnosed condition that affects the gastrointestinal tract. If new symptoms appear, it may be a good idea to contact a healthcare professional.

Research states that gluten intolerance is associated with five conditions:

  • Celiac disease (CD): This condition is a type of gluten intolerance that can be asymptomatic or involve intestinal symptoms such as diarrhea and abdominal pain.
  • Nonceliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS): People with NCGS may have symptoms similar to CD. People may also have symptoms similar to those of irritable bowel syndrome or wheat allergy.
  • Gluten ataxia: This condition can cause epilepsy and dementia and often manifests when a person is 50–60 years of age. There is a link between an increase in CD antibodies and gluten ataxia.
  • Wheat allergy: This condition is one of the most common food allergies. Some symptoms include bloating, abdominal pain, and migraine.
  • Dermatitis herpetiformis (DH): This autoimmune condition occurs most commonly in people who are 15–40 years of age and have gluten sensitivity.

No test can accurately detect gluten sensitivity. Diagnosing gluten sensitivity involves using an elimination diet, in which a person removes gluten from their diet, monitors their symptoms, and slowly reintroduces gluten to see if their symptoms return.

People may also wish to consult with a healthcare professional, who may order two tests: a blood test and a small intestine biopsy.

A blood test measures the number of antibodies in the blood. A higher than typical amount of antibodies could indicate gluten intolerance.

During a small intestine biopsy, a healthcare professional takes a sample of tissue from the intestine lining and tests it for damage.

MNT chooses at-home tests that meet the following criteria:

  • Laboratories: Where possible, MNT will choose companies that process test samples in CLIA-certified labs. This means they follow state and federal regulations.
  • Budget: MNT chooses at-home tests that suit a wide range of budgets.
  • Privacy: MNT includes companies that offer robust and transparent privacy measures, such as data protection and discreet packaging.
  • Test result speed: MNT selects companies that inform customers when they will receive their test results and whether they will receive them via email, app, or phone.
  • Further support: MNT will indicate whether a company offers further support, such as a follow-up phone consultation with a doctor to discuss test results.

The following tests can help determine whether a person has celiac disease. Many look for the presence of antibodies or markers of the condition that are not present in people with gluten sensitivity.

Please note that the writer of this article has not tried these products. All information presented is purely research-based and correct at the time of publication.

Medical News Today follows a strict product selection and vetting process. Learn more here.

Best celiac test: LetsGetChecked Celiac Test

LetsGetChecked offers a wide variety of home testing kits, including those tailored for men’s and women’s health.

The Celiac Test checks for the presence of tissue transglutaminase (tTG) and endomysial antibodies (EMA), both of which are markers of celiac disease. It requires a person to take a blood sample using a finger prick.

The company says that for the test to work, a person needs to eat gluten regularly for six weeks beforehand. The test can only be completed on certain days of the week to make sure that it can be returned to the lab on the same day.

Pros

  • Healthcare professionals review the test results.
  • LetsGetChecked offers a secure platform for viewing test results.
  • The company disposes of all samples once healthcare professionals analyze the results.

Cons

  • People will need to consume gluten for six weeks before testing, which may lead to gluten intolerance symptoms.
  • This test requires a blood sample, which some people may find difficult to collect.

Learn more about LetsGetChecked here.

Best for fast, comprehensive testing: YorkTest Premium Food Sensitivity Test

This checks for a reaction to almost 200 foods, including gluten. It does this by measuring IgG levels.

To complete the test, a person collects a blood sample with a finger prick test and sends the sample to the YorkTest laboratory.

The results are returned within 7 days of the lab receiving the sample.

Pros

  • YorkTest offers free shipping.
  • The company offers a free 30-minute consultation and test support.
  • This test also screens for other allergies and intolerances, such as lactose intolerance and nut allergies.
  • YorkTest accepts FSA and HSA payments.

Cons

  • YorkTest does not state whether it accepts health insurance.
  • This test requires a blood sample, which some people may find difficult to collect.

Best with a hair sample: U.S. Food Intolerance Core Test

U.S. Food Intolerance offers several home tests for food sensitivities based on IgG measurements. Its basic test, the Core Test, can check for sensitivity to gluten and around 300 foods.

However, it is worth noting that no evidence indicates that food sensitivity tests based on IgG levels correlate with symptoms.

To take the test, a person needs to provide a hair sample of five strands. The test also works on color-treated hair.

U.S. Food Intolerance says that results come back within 72 hours of the lab receiving the sample. The report includes a complementary metal and nutritional deficiency test.

Pros

  • This test uses a hair sample, which may be easier to collect than a blood sample for some individuals.
  • This test also screens for metals and nutritional deficiencies.
  • A person can expect their test results within 72 hours of the lab receiving the sample.

Cons

  • The company does not state whether a healthcare professional reviews the test results.
  • This test is not suitable for children under 6 years of age.

Best for a budget: GlutenCHECK Gluten Intolerance Test by NanoRepro

This is an at-home test for celiac disease that looks for antibodies related to the condition.

To take the test, a person needs to provide a blood sample via a finger prick. Next, a person mixes their sample with a solution and compares the color of the mixture with the shades on a color chart. Any changes in the color of the sample mixture can indicate that a reaction has occurred.

Pros

  • Unlike some other tests, GlutenCHECK delivers results in as little as 10 minutes.
  • This test is less expensive than some other options.

Cons

  • Some reviewers state that the test results were confusing.
  • The test results are not reviewed by a healthcare professional.
  • Some reviewers state that they did not receive a complete test.

The table below provides a quick comparison of the tests in this article.

LetsGetChecked Celiac TestYorkTest Premium Food Sensitivity TestU.S. Food Intolerance Core TestGlutenCHECK Gluten Intolerance Test by NanoRepro
Collection methodfinger prickfinger prickhair samplefinger prick
Results time5 days7 days72 hours10 minutes
Price$119$199$80$56.99

People may wish to consider the following factors when choosing a gluten intolerance test:

  • Privacy: People should consider the company’s privacy policy, such as the length of time a company holds onto samples and whether it anonymizes the samples and results. People may also wish to consider whether the company will delete personal information at an individual’s request.
  • Cost: People may wish to consider whether their insurance covers gluten intolerance testing and whether the company selling the tests accepts insurance, flexible spending accounts, or health saving accounts.
  • Type of sample: Many companies require a blood sample, often through a finger prick. People should consider whether they are comfortable taking a blood sample and choose a test accordingly.

Home tests may indicate whether a person has celiac disease, but anyone with symptoms of gluten intolerance should consider speaking with a doctor for a diagnosis.

No effective gluten sensitivity blood or stool tests exist. Doctors diagnose it by ruling out other conditions and encouraging the person to try an elimination diet.

Below are the answers to some commonly asked questions about gluten intolerance testing.

What is the difference between celiac disease and gluten intolerance?

A food intolerance, such as gluten intolerance, occurs when the body finds it difficult to digest certain foods. Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition that causes inflammation in the gut.

People with either condition may see their symptoms improve with a gluten-free diet.

Can I test negative for celiac disease and still have gluten intolerance?

Research has found that people who have symptoms of gluten intolerance do not always have celiac disease.

However, if a person does have symptoms of gluten intolerance, a healthcare professional may recommend testing for celiac disease.

Can a general practitioner test for gluten intolerance?

Healthcare professionals may order tests to screen for celiac disease. They may also take a person’s medical history and recommend an elimination diet to diagnose gluten intolerance.

The cause of gluten sensitivity can be unclear. It may result from celiac disease, low quality wheat, or a combination of factors.

At-home tests may help a person check for the presence of celiac disease, but they cannot check for nonceliac gluten sensitivity.

A person might consider contacting a doctor about their symptoms and the results of any home tests. Only a doctor can diagnose celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and other gastrointestinal conditions.