Celiac & Gluten Definitions


What is Celiac Disease?

The term “celiac” is of Greek origin and means “of or in the cavity of the abdomen” as many of the symptoms and effects of the disorder are related to the gastrointestinal tract.

Celiac disease (CD), also known as coeliac disease, gluten-sensitive enteropathy, non-tropical sprue, celiac sprue, and gluten intolerant enteropathy, is a chronic digestive disorder found in individuals who experience a toxic immune response when they ingest gluten. CD is the most common genetic disease today. Approximately 1 in 200 people in North America have CD. For celiac disease to develop three factors must be present: the gene must be inherited, gluten consumed, and the gene must be triggered. CD can be triggered at birth or for the first time after some physical trauma. Events such as surgery, viral infection, severe emotional stress, pregnancy or after childbirth may be the initial trigger. There is no known cure for celiac disease. Treatment involves lifelong adherence to a gluten-free diet.

What’s happening in there?

Ingesting gluten affects the function of the small intestine of celiacs by damaging or destroying the absorptive villi. Villi are finger-like projections that line the small intestinal tract, responsible for nutrient absorption. Once damaged the body becomes unable to absorb necessary nutrients. If CD is left untreated, damage to the small intestine can be chronic and life threatening, causing an increased risk of associated disorders- both nutritional and immune related. When all gluten is removed from the diet, the small intestine can start to heal and overall health improves.

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley (spelt, Kamut, triticale, einkorn, emmer, semolina and durum are all considered variations of wheat). Gluten is the structure that gives bread a light, airy texture.  Gluten is defined as the mixture of many protein fragments (called peptide chains or polypeptides). Although other grains may contain variations of the protein peptides, wheat, rye and barley are the only grains considered to contain true “gluten” and the peptides that predominate are gliadin and glutenin.

Gliadin is thought to be the peptide chain that instigates the toxic immune response and subsequent intestinal damage in celiacs. Even minute amounts of these protein fragments can cause intestinal damage in people with celiac disease.