A new study explains that non-celiac wheat sensitivity might be connected to affected individuals’ intestines. Based on the recent gluten-free trend, it seems like some people who experience the uncomfortable symptoms after eating wheat or related cereals have a weakened intestinal barrier.

The findings come from a study led by Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) researchers and later published in the journal Gut. CUMC researchers studied 40 people with celiac disease and 80 people with non-celiac gluten or wheat sensitivity (NCWS).

Celiac disease causes damage of the small intestine usually after the intake of gluten. Those with NCWS experience similar celiac disease symptoms such as abdominal pain and fatigue after eating wheat, but they do not contain the blood, tissue and genetic markers that come with the disorder.

According to the CUMC press release, the researchers discovered that the NCWS group did not have any intestinal cytotoxic T cells as seen in the celiac patients. But after they were exposed to wheat, rye or barley grains, a systematic immune activation occurred.

The study also stated that NCWS patients who avoided wheat products from their diets for six months saw improvement in their symptoms. While there are no accurate figures for NCWS’s occurrence, it is estimated about 3 million Americans experience the same type of condition.

Future studies of NCWS will investigate what exactly is causing the intestinal damage and further characterize the immune cell responses.

Read more about the CUMC study containing non-celiac wheat sensitivity here.