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Can Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity Cause Malabsorption?


Can malabsorption be caused by non-celiac gluten sensitivity? Our son has gluten and dairy sensitivity but not celiac disease and his stool is still often floating and looking like he has malabsorption.

We get scared he could have something like Crohn’s disease because we’ve had him gluten-free and dairy-free and tried to heal his gut, but he still complains of tummy pain and has red bumps on his buttock cheeks. Low grade fevers no longer are around after months of battling that.

Any suggestions of what to try next? We have no birth family history, as our son was adopted from Russia, so sometimes we feel at a loss when it comes to possible autoimmune disease-like symptoms.




Dear Heather,

Malabsorption ensues when the intestines are unable to properly break down and process nutrients. This results in diarrhea and poor growth. In children, malabsorption most often occurs when there is damage to the intestinal villi (finger-like projections on the inside of the small intestine that help to absorb food) or when there is a lack of or absence of an enzyme needed to digest food.

By definition, patients with non-celiac gluten sensitivity have normal villi on intestinal biopsies. Therefore, malabsorption usually does not occur. However, there is a very long list of disorders (other than celiac disease) that cause malabsorption in pediatric patients, including inflammatory disorders such as Crohn’s disease, allergic disorders, cystic fibrosis, deficiencies in enzymes that break down sugars, and overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine. I would recommend discussing these possibilities with your child’s doctor.


Center for Celiac Disease at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

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