According to a recent study celiac disease is on the rise in the United States. Celiac disease is a gastrointestinal disorder characterized by intolerance to gluten, a grain protein.

A recent study suggests that nearly five times as many people have celiac disease today than did during the 1950s. However, another report says that the rate of celiac disease has doubled every 15 years since 1974. The disease and is now believed to affect one in every 133 U.S. residents.

It's quite widespread, said Dr. Alessio Fasano, director of the Center for Celiac Research and the Mucosal Biology Research Center at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. We thought there were regional differences in the past, but now we know it's everywhere.

According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, celiac disease is an inherited autoimmune gastrointestinal disorder that causes the body's immune system to attack the small intestine. The attack on small intestine is prompted by exposure to gluten.

The attack affects the inner lining of the small intestine, forcing to compromise on its ability to digest food and extract vital nutrients.

People who are affected with celiac disease can suffer from bloat, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation. Adults who are affected with the disorder might develop anemia, fatigue, osteoporosis or arthritis.

Celiac disease awareness has grown over the last few years; markets with gluten-free foods have responded to the awareness.

However, researchers believe that celiac disease is increasing for the same reason other autoimmune diseases are on the rise because of our overly clean and sanitized Western environment.

According to the hygiene hypothesis, said Carol McCarthy Shilson, executive director of the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, people in industrialized countries are more at risk for celiac disease because their bodies have not had to fight off as many diseases.

We're just too clean a society, so our immune systems aren't as developed as they should be, she said.

Another version of the hypothesis holds that the cleanliness of industrialized society has caused a fundamental change in the composition of the digestive bacteria contained within the gut, Fasano said.

It's because this increase occurs primarily in industrialized countries, where things are cleaner, Fasano said. We abuse antibiotics, we wash our hands too often, and we are vaccinated more often.