This image shows the damage that eating the protein gluten can cause in the small intestine of a person with celiac disease. Experts believe that nearly 1 in 100 people may have this autoimmune ailment which is triggered by exposure to the protein gluten in wheat and similar proteins in rye and barley. This man's small intestine enlarged in the background image is lined with finger-like healthy villi (inset) which absorb nutrients from food. But when those with celiac disease eat gluten it is seen as a foreign invader. The resulting autoimmune response damages villi cells (right inset). The villi are worn away and cannot absorb nutrients properly resulting in malnutrition and many other serious effects. Photo credit: wheat image comes from the National Cancer Institute.
Celiac disease is often misunderstood and misdiagnosed. Yet, experts believe that nearly 1 in 100 people may have this autoimmune ailment, which is triggered by exposure to the protein gluten in wheat and similar proteins in rye and barley. People with celiac disease, or CD, have a genetic predisposition to the illness. Some researchers believe that CD sufferers also have an intestinal wall abnormality which allows gluten fragments to reach underlying cells, where they trigger an autoimmune reaction. Read more