Lactose intolerance vs. gluten allergy – What’s the difference?

My first vacation with Celiac!

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been diligent about ensuring gluten is far away from my diet. We go out to eat less frequently and when we do go out, I’m sure to pick a place that is educated on gluten and Celiac. I think that is so important and that’s why I am blogging about all the different restaurants we go to even while on vacation.

You never know when you might be in Hilton Head, SC!

The amazing view from the Marriott Grand Ocean Resort

During I trip, I realized after eating sour cream on a baked potato without paying any attention that is was actually a diary product that I need to pay attention to more than just gluten. Recently, something crept up on me like a cat from behind the couch… a lactose intolerance. I literally can’t stomach it anymore. At first I thought it was just milk, so I switched to rice milk and then it moved to yogurt and ice cream making me sick. Greek yogurt is pretty much my favorite thing in the universe so to have to cut it out of my diet, makes me very sad.

Please remember, I write these posts out of my own experiences and research and am not a doctor or nutritionist. I simply am a Pretty Little Celiac struggling with my own journey and see the need to help others in this predicament.

What’s the difference between being lactose intolerant and having a gluten allergy?

Lactose intolerance is when your body is unable to digest lactase, a sugar in milk and milk related products. The body has a deficiency of lactose, which is an enzyme produced by the cells in the small intestine. Once it gets there, it’s then broken down further into glucose and galactose to be absorbed into the blood stream.

Lactose intolerance can be a primary problem and brought on from an early age. From what I’ve read, it typically sneaks up on adolescents and early adults. It is actually a very common problem.

Researchers found that lactose intolerance can also be a secondary problem among people suffering from intestinal damage diseases like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Celiac Disease, Crohn’s Disease or even Chemotherapy. Basically because you’re stomach lining and intestines are already damaged, the cells just aren’t there to break down the lactase, thus making you sick. Dr. Aukerman told me during one of my appointments, that typically once you get rid of the main problem such as gluten – there will be other food intolerances that pop up over time.
A gluten or wheat allergy is where your body is allergic to gluten, not intolerant. There are people that have an intolerance to gluten and can handle it sometimes or in small amounts but for those of us with Celiac, gluten can’t be absorbed at all. Another difference between the two is that Celiac disease is an auto-immune disease – not an allergy and I will explain in a different post.

So, what is gluten anyway? Gluten is a protein found in foods made from wheat and grains including barley and rye. Gluten helps dough rise and gives it that yummy doughy consistency that we all know and love. Unfortunately, for us because gluten is similar to a glue product, it can also be found in many cosmetics and other beauty products.

There is a glycoprotein found in gluten called gliadin that attacks the small intestines. The villi (the little finger looking things in your intestines that move food through) eventually break down and your intestines can’t move the food through as they are intended. Then your body doesn’t absorb nutrients and vitamins from the food, often causing severe deficiencies in the blood.

The symptoms of both lactose intolerance and gluten allergy are very similar but gluten triggers some very different responses. Again, these are based on my individual experiences – if you’ve had others please feel free to comment!

Lactose Intolerance Symptoms: Bloating, stomach pain, gas out of both ends, indigestion, diarrhea, nausea which occur within 30 minutes to an hour of consuming lactose. Usually, after the lactose has cleared your system, there are no other problems and cutting out dairy will resolve the problems.

Gluten Allergy (Celiac) Symptoms: Bloating, stomach pain, acne, migraines, hair loss, dry skin, oily stool, odd smelling stool, eczema, rhinitis, asthma symptoms, join pain, brain fog, exhaustion and mood swings. It can take a few hours for these symptoms to start, but they stick around for days and weeks on end.

There is a significant different between being “intolerant” and “allergic.” A true food allergy requires the presence of Immunoglobin E (IgE) antibodies against the food, and a food intolerance does not.

Regardless of if you are intolerant or allergic to a food, you should probably avoid it all together. I’m learning more and more about the long term consequences of these problems and it’s better for us with problems to stay far away from these sickening culprits.

Tastes delicious! I actually prefer this to actual sour cream. Better texture and more flavors!


4 responses

  1. WOW! This is so similar to my story I can hardly believe it. I was diagnosed with Celiac within the last month and, out of nowhere, my body has become completely intolerant to lactose, soy, and corn! I am so upset and it has been very hard to find foods that I can enjoy every once in a while. ex; treats, ice cream, cookies. Yup! No more! Luckily, Lactaid makes these little tablets called Lactase that supplement the enzyme that Lactose intolerant people need to digest diary. Unfortunately, my body does not process this properly and I become even more sick (i.e. diarrhea, nausea, but lessened bloating than w.o tablets) Sorry. Maybe give em a shot though. Very interesting to read your story since it is so similar to my journey!

    • Hi Andrea-

      I’ve been trying so many different kinds of foods it’s been crazy! Our food bill is out of control, but I’m at least finding things I like. I don’t seem to have a problem with soy or corn – just primarily milk and then celiac/gluten. I absolutely love the lactose free sour cream I found that I posted in the last blog. Stay tuned I am just going to keep posting more and more of my favorite foods on here!!! Thanks for following – I’ll follow back. If you need a guest blogger let me know and don’t forget to enter my contest!!!


      • Neat! Thanks, Rebecca! My food bills are astronomical at best, too! I MUST try that sour cream and can’t wait to read more about your favorite foods! Guest blogging is a terrific idea! I will keep you posted 🙂

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