How Coeliac Disease was Discovered
With Coeliac disease on the rise today, one way be wondering how this disease all came about. With recent developments and popularity over eating gluten free, it’s hard to imagine that Coeliac disease was actually discovered all the way back in the 1940’s by physician Willem Dicke. Dicke was the medical director at a children’s hospital and became increasingly interested in coeliac disease after attending a presentation on it back in 1932; this sparked his initial experimentation with wheat-free diets and how his patients reacted to specific foods. In 1941 he exclaimed that he gives “a simple diet” free from bread or rusks. Another surprising revelation on the initial discovery of coeliac disease came during World War II which solidified Dicke’s findings on how wheat relates to health. In 1944, the Netherlands experienced a famine, and amazingly coeliac patients started to improve. In 1945 when bread drops over Holland occurred, those patients relapsed. This was the true first discovery that gluten can have a profound effect on health and that physician Willem Dicke was onto something as far back as 1940. Coeliac disease while on the rise today and gluten free diets gaining popularity, this was indeed something effecting people back in World War II as well.
If you thought that Coeliac disease being discovered back in the 1940’s to be surprising, this might surprise you even more. It is thought that the first observation of this disease was seen back in 2nd century A.D.! Aretaeus of Cappodocia was a Greek physician first wrote about both adult and childhood coeliac disease. A chapter in his writing, “The Coeliac Diathesis” talked about specific side effects of Coeliac disease such as diarrhea, weight loss, and pallor, which are all things commonly associated with this disease. In terms of where the name Coeliac came from, the word originates from the Greek word, ‘koiliakos’ which means ‘suffering in the bowels.’ Part of Aretaeus of Cappodocia book directly wrote, “If the stomach be irretentive of the food and it pass through undigested and crude, and nothing ascends into the body, we call such persons Coeliacs.” It’s pretty amazing that revelations about this disease were seen as part back as second century A.D. and that this disease is still on the rise today.
Now that we know how and where Coeliac disease was first discovered let’s talk about what the very first cure for this disease was. It was thought that bananas were the cure for this disease, while in reality it wasn’t the bananas itself, it was the fact that these individuals weren’t eating gluten that was helping them to feel better. A banana diet had been invented, and people were consuming large amounts of bananas for their therapeutic properties and bananas were even given to children with Coeliac disease, however, Dicke’s wasn’t buying it. Dicke believed that the bananas weren’t what had any particular special powers in treating Coeliac disease, it was the accidental avoidance of gluten that was helping treat the disease. As we have learned today, the only way to treat Coeliac disease is from complete avoidance of gluten itself, and that bananas do not have anything to do with the equation other than being a healthy addition to your diet.
While the studied were out there proving the Coeliac disease existed, how to diagnose it was another story. It was a gastroenterologist in London, Margot Shiner that first developed the definitive way to diagnose celiac disease using a biopsy based on a specific pattern of damage to the small intestine, quite similar to what is done today for a definitive Coeliac diagnosis. The biopsy based technique was done to determine if there were distinct patterns of damage to the fingerlike villi in the small intestine and this technique was developed back in 1956.
The great news is that genetic testing now exists in hopes of determining if you do or do not have Coeliac disease. While this is a great new technology, it’s not definitive it is only helpful for screening purposes. The test is done by using a sample of blood or cells taken from your mouth by swabbing the inside of your cheek. However, this test can suggest that you may have a diagnosis of coeliac disease, but they it cannot confirm a diagnosis. Up to one-third of the population carry these genes, although only a small subset – 2 to 3% — of all people with these genes will ever get Coeliac disease. What this test can tell you is whether you are at risk of having Coeliac disease, since without these genes it is virtually impossible to get Coeliac disease. This is one Coeliac disease test that only needs to be checked once in a lifetime since our genetic makeup does not change. The only definitive way to diagnose the condition is to have a biopsy. A sample of tissue from the lining of the small intestine is taken. The procedure takes just 10 to 15 minutes.
PS: Looking for some gluten free breakfast ideas? Check out our award winning gluten free muesli, (which is registered with Coeliac UK), also worth taking a look at our gluten free cereal bars, our gluten free porridge oats and our gluten free porridge bread mix.
“The Gluten Lie: And Other Myths About What You Eat”, Alan Levinovitz.