History of Celiac DiseasePosted 8 years ago under Uncategorized
Homo Sapiens have been hunter-gatherers for more than 99.9% of our history. For millions of years, we subsisted on a diet of fruits, nuts, wild vegetables, bone marrow, seafood, meat, and herbs. The human gut had evolved into a sophisticated digestive system able to tolerate a wide variety of antigens.
From an evolutionary standpoint other antigens were introduced suddenly, less than .1% of our history homo sapiens had to contend with consuming large quantities of foods that contained very different antigens from what we had evolved to tolerate. Proteins came from domesticated animal’s milk, bird eggs and cereals. (1)
Cereals such as wheat, corn, barley, oats, and rye were not introduced into the diet until about 10,000 years ago. These grains became staples of our diet along with the adoption of agriculture.
Not everyone could digest these new sources of food. Our bodies are not well adapted to grains, though some tolerate them better than others. Many cannot tolerate grains that contain gluten at all, in any amount. For other sensitive individuals, long-term consumption of gluten destroys their health and may lead to their death.
Consumption of grain was mandatory to most, not optional. As one would expect, most people with an inability to digest grains, and other agricultural staples did not thrive in a farming dominated society. For this reason celiac disease is rare, it was probably very common pre-farming, but it is certainly very rare post agriculture. (2)
The earliest documented case of celiac disease is known as the “case of Cosa,” it is more than 2,000 years old. A young woman’s remains were found southwest of modern day Tuscany, Italy. It is believed that she was between the ages of 18 and 20. Genetic testing revealed the presence of the HLA-DQ2.5. gene, this is a definitive genetic marker for the disease. Her skeleton also revealed damage caused by malnutrition. This happens when people with celiac disease continue to consume long-term.
Documentation Begins With the Greeks
Aretaeus, an ancient Greek physician who was believed to practice in the 1st century AD, was the first to describe one of the most noticeable symptoms of celiac disease. Steatorrhea was the most common symptom, a tendency for fatty stools with poorly digested food. He wrote about a mysterious disease afflicting a number of his patients who he called “koilakos,” which means “suffering in the bowels.” Aretaeus believed the affliction was caused by a lack of heat in the digestive tract. Unfortunately his speculation about a lack of digestive heat did not lead to the cause or the cure. Celiac disease and its debilitating symptoms continued to plague a small percentage of the population for centuries, without anyone identifying the source of the problem. (3)
Francis Adams translated Aretaeus’ work from Greek to English at the Sydenham Society of England in 1856. He coined the term coeliacs.
Centuries Later, More is Learned
In the early 19th century Dr. Matthew Bailey showed moderate success putting patients of his with severe digestive disturbances on diets high in rice. He was most likely unaware of Arataeus’ previous work on coeliacs. He got little credit for his efforts, though he was the first physician to make the connection from the symptoms of celiac disease to diet.
In 1888, Samuel Gee, a British pediatrician, was the first physician to widely receive credit for making the connection between diet and the disease. Almost everything else he did and said was a tragedy of errors. Gee experimented with various diets. He showed some momentary success by introducing mussels (a gluten free food) into the diet. Eventually though, he put his celiac patients back on a high gluten diet, (no fruit, no sago, no rice, no vegetables). Gee would feed his patients thin pieces of bread and thin slices of meat. His patients with other ailments may have improved under this diet, but not his celiac patients. They got worse, slowing dying a painful death.
Part of the reason Gee failed to discover that gluten was the problem was the fact that he was actually treating patients with two different afflictions: celiac disease and tropical sprue, two unique diseases with similar symptoms.
(Tropical sprue is a disease that to this day has an unknown cause, but is believed to be an infection caused by an unknown pathogen. It solely afflicts people in the tropics, and people who have traveled to tropical regions. Damage to the intestines and malnutrition are the typical symptoms.)
A Brilliant Deduction
Many years later, a Dutch pediatrician, Willem Karel Dicke, discovered a link between celiac disease and wheat. During World War II, food shortages made it impossible for him to feed his patients the standard staples of wheat and oats. Out of necessity, the doctor switched to gluten free alternatives, and his celiac patients thrived under the new diet. When wheat and oats became available again, his patients with celiac disease quickly deteriorated. (Although oats are technically gluten free many people with celiac disease cannot tolerate oats for two reasons: cross contamination with wheat, and oats contain a very similar protein to gluten known as avenin).
This lead Dr. Dicke to make the connection between proteins found in wheat and damage to the small intestine. He wrote his thesis on celiac disease and its connection to wheat and rye in 1950.
In the early fifties, Dr. William Holmes Crosby Jr. developed a less invasive technique to biopsy the small intestine. Then in the late fifties, Dr. Cyrus Rubin further refined the intestinal biopsy technique. This refinement lead to a more accurate diagnoses of celiac disease. Dr. Rubin also defined the diagnostic criteria for celiac disease, proving that it afflicts both children and adults.
Then in the 1970s, the right kind of specialist shed more light on the problem. Anne Ferguson, a gastroenterologist, discovered that celiac disease is due to the body’s immune response to gluten in the digestive tract. In 1975, she published a paper in the Lancet, which showed how biopsied tissues from celiac patients react to the proteins found in wheat, while the control biopsies from other individuals did not show this immune response.
Contaminated Grain and the Rise of Celiac
In 2013, Anthony Samsel and Dr. Stephanie Seneff revealed a correlation between the increasing use of glyphosate in agriculture and the growth of celiac disease in the Western population. (Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Round Up, and it is used extensively in modern-day agriculture and landscaping.)
At present celiac disease is on the rise. Chemically treated wheat, GMO wheat spreading it’s modified genes to wheat, leaky gut syndrome, and candida infections (candida albicans has a similar protein structure to gluten) all likely play a part in the increased prevalence of the disease. Celiac disease has always been with us, among the minority of the population but that may change in the future. (4)