Allergies and Sensitivities to Gluten and Casein without Signs or Symptoms

Many times responses to food allergies are noticeable and often severe. Rashes, itching, and even anaphylaxis, can result. Often, reactions will grow more severe after each exposure. However, there are other instances when there are no outward signs of a food allergy even when one exists. This is possible for people with casein and gluten allergies and sensitivities.

A gluten allergy is an immunological response to gluten that has been ingested. The portion of gluten that generally triggers the immune response is the precursor to gluten, gliadin. The immune system of allergic individuals recognizes gliadin as toxic, rather than nutritious. As in other immunological reactions, antibodies are formed in response to an allergen (in this case gliadin). Studies are showing that blood tests for gluten allergies are sometimes falsely negative. This is problematic when the physicians tell the patient they have no allergy when in fact they do.

The high percentage of false negative tests results occurs because most of the allergic response occurs within the intestinal tract, yet doctors test the blood for the antibodies. More and more frequently, individuals that are negative for a blood test are instructed to take a stool test, which examines the level of antibodies in the digestive system by looking directly at the contents of the digestive system in the stool. Tests are available that check for the presence of these antibodies in the blood. Studies have recently shown that looking for antibodies produced in response to gluten in the stool nearly three times as effective at determining whether an allergy exists.

Many times an allergy to gluten can be present without any (or with few) outward signs, or signs that are not readily recognizable as a gluten allergy. The effects of gluten sensitivity occur largely in the intestines. Gluten allergies cause damage to the lining of the intestine, which makes it increasingly difficult (it not impossible) to absorb nutrients from the diet. Thus, someone with a gluten allergy or sensitivity may be symptom-free until sufficient damage has been done to the intestines, which may not occur until months have passed. The danger in this is that the symptoms must be severe enough to be diagnosed, at which time damage to the small intestine as already occurred.

Because of the failure to absorb nutrients, gluten allergies frequently mimic those of malnutrition, including weight loss, weakness and joint discomfort. Other symptoms of a gluten allergy or intolerance can be diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gaseousness, abdominal pain, nausea and sometimes heartburn. Since these symptoms are so wide-ranging, it may be difficult to even get a diagnosis until many other options are eliminated.

The symptoms of a casein allergy may be equally difficult to diagnose. Many individuals that are allergic to casein will have a latent reaction, occurring 24 hours after ingestion of milk products. Additionally, while many symptoms are digestive (e.g., vomiting, diarrhea) there are other symptoms that are common to many other ailments (watery eyes, eczema, ear infections) so it is difficult to make the connection between ingesting casein and an allergic reaction. Coupled with the fact that casein is found in so many packaged food products, diagnosis of a casein allergy is even more difficult.

Both gluten and casein allergies have a genetic basis, and can be passed along in families. If gluten or casein allergies are in the family, genetic tests can often determine whether these allergic tendencies have been passed along to children.