Celiac Disease Causes

Celiac disease is a digestive disorder triggered by gluten intolerance, which, in lay terms, might be considered an extreme wheat allergy.

Celiac disease is largely a genetic problem. If an immediate family member has celiac disease, your chances of contracting it as well are increased by some ten to twenty percent. If one identical twin has celiac disease, then the other twin has a seventy percent chance of having it too. An estimated one in every 133 Americans suffers from gluten intolerance. Worldwide, about one percent of the population is afflicted.

Causes of Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is caused by an immune response by the body to protect itself from a perceived threat: gluten.

The most direct of celiac causes is ingestion of gluten in food. Gluten is a wheat protein found in a wide range of foods, including, but not limited to, breads, grains, cereals, crackers, candies. When a gluten-intolerant individual ingests gluten the resulting immune response can wreak havoc on the small intestine.

The gluten moves along the digestive tract and eventually makes contact with the lining of the small intestine. In gluten-intolerant individuals, the immune system reacts to the presence of gluten by defending the body against its invasion. Over time, and through ongoing ingestion of any food that contains gluten, this immune response causes major damage to the villi of the small intestine.

The Small Intestine’s Villi

The villi are tiny projecting “fingers” that extend from the mucosal surface of the small intestine. They line it like a rich, thick, absorbent towel. These fingers ordinarily serve a critical role by increasing the surface area of the small intestine and absorbing the vitamins and nutrients in the food passing through the intestine. Thus, healthy, normally-functioning villi are essential to overall good health.

In persons with celiac disease, these villi are rendered ineffective. Once the villi are out of commission, the body can no longer absorb vital nutrients well and malnourishment occurs. Instead of being absorbed into the body, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals and other critical nutrients are eliminated with normal solid body waste. This why celiac disease is classified as a malabsorption disease.

Other Celiac Causes

Diagnosis of celiac disease generally does not occur until well after initial onset. The disease can erupt early or late in life. And for reasons that are still unclear to medical researchers, celiac disease often develops after a major traumatic event, such as surgery, pregnancy, childbirth, viral infection or even severe emotional stress.


Allergy Health Online. (nd). Gluten intolerance.

Beers, M.H.