You'll see the term villous atrophy used often around discussions about celiac disease.
Here's what it means, in a nutshell:
When we eat, food goes into the stomach and then into the small intestine (ileum). It is in the small intestine where most chemical digestion takes place.
Proteins, fats and carbohydrates are broken down so as to be ready for absorption into the bloodstream.
This absorption happens in the small intestine - made more efficient by small finger like projections on the wall of the small intestine.
These microscopic finger-like projections are called villi (singular, villous).
When these villi have been damaged, they become blunted. Think about opening your fingers out with your palm open.
That would represent normal villi.
If you clenched your hand into a fist then your knuckles would be the flattened villi. This is what is known as Villous Atrophy.
When a person with celiac disease or gluten allergy eats wheat or other gluteny grains, the immune system responds by attacking the gluten, but it doesn't end there.
The immune system also attacks the intestinal tract, causing the villi to become blunted.
This is what is also meant by the fact that Celiac is an autoimmune disease, because the immune system is attacking part of its own body.
Can you now see how it makes sense that a person with gluten intolerance would have all the problems associated with celiac?
Of course. Absorption of nutrients in the small intestine has been compromised.