What Is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the body's response to certain grain proteins causes damage to the lining of the small intestine. The toxic proteins, collectively called "gluten," are found in wheat, barley, rye, contaminated oats and triticale and all of their derivatives. In people with celiac disease, the immune system reacts to gluten and produces antibodies and other immune system substances. An inflammatory process is set off that damages the lining of the small intestine. Ultimately, this impairs the digestion of food and absorption of nutrients, often leading to malnutrition, bone disease and other conditions throughout the body.

Other terms used to describe celiac disease include celiac sprue, gluten-sensitive enteropathy and non-tropical sprue. Tropical sprue is an infectious condition that does not respond to a gluten-free diet and is treated by antibiotics.

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