Gluten intolerance could more accurately be termed gliadin intolerance. While gluten has become a catch-all term in popular literature and medical circles alike, it is actually just one of several offending proteins that cause problems for celiac patients and other individuals who are intolerant to wheat, rye and barley.
About Gliadin Intolerance
Gluten, a storage protein exclusively found in wheat, is a large molecule actually composed of two smaller molecules: glutenin and gliadin. These proteins are specific to wheat, and although most people think of gluten as a protein that occurs in wheat, rye, and barley, each grain has its own particular storage protein. In barley, the protein that triggers celiac-type reactions is known as hordein, and in rye it is secalin. What these proteins have in common is a particular peptide sequence that intolerant immune systems perceive as a foreign invader.
All proteins are made up of long chains of amino acids known as polypeptides. The specific order of amino acids within a polypeptide, referred to as the peptide sequence, sometimes acts as a chemical name tag that identifies the protein for other systems within the body. The immune system uses peptide sequencing to identify antigens, such as viruses and bacteria, as disease-causing organisms. Once something is identified as harmful (for example, the chicken pox virus) the immune system produces antibodies specific to that antigen. These specialized antibodies identify the virus by its peptide sequencing and attack it accordingly, which is why you have lifetime immunity to the virus once infected.
Gliadin, hordein, and secalin all share a particular peptide sequence that, in intolerant individuals, triggers an immune response in the small intestine. It is this immune response that creates the inflammation, malabsorption, and digestive upset that characterizes hordein, secalin and gliadin intolerance - popularly known as gluten intolerance.
Gliadin intolerance manifests as a series of symptoms ranging from mild discomfort to full-blown celiac disease. Any of the offending proteins will trigger a similar response, which is why it is common to refer to all three under a single identifier. Common symptoms of hordein, secalin and gliadin intolerance include:
- Steatorrhea (greasy stools)
- Mouth sores
- Weight loss
- Malabsorption symptoms
If you have experienced any of these symptoms over an extended period of time, your doctor may recommend you undergo testing for celiac disease. A simple screening test for celiac disease is the gliadin antibody test. This is a simple blood test that looks for the presence of gliadin-specific antibodies in your bloodstream.
If blood tests show signs of intolerance, your physician will likely suggest intestinal biopsy. This is a routine procedure that is normally performed while you are under sedation. Your physician will take several samples from your intestinal lining to check for the chemical and morphological changes that accompany gliadin intolerance.
Currently, the only treatment for gliadin intolerance is strict adherence to a gluten free diet. This involves avoiding any foods that contain wheat, barley, rye or derivatives. While this may seem intimidating at first, once you become familiar with what foods contain gliadin and other problematic proteins, avoiding them will become second nature.