Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disorder in which people cannot eat gluten because it damages their small intestine. It is estimated to affect 1 in 100 people worldwide. The United States has one of the worst diagnosis rates for developed nations. 2.5 million Americans are undiagnosed and are at risk for long-term health complications.
When people with celiac disease eat gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and barley), their body’s immune system responds by creating antibodies that attack the small intestine. These antibodies damage the villi, small fingerlike projections that line the small intestine, so that nutrients cannot be absorbed into the body.
Celiac disease is hereditary, meaning that it runs in families. 1 in 10 people with a first-degree relative with celiac disease (parent, child, sibling) have celiac disease.