The history of celiac disease

I have been interested in the history of celiac disease since my mother told me that I was one of the first to be diagnosed with the condition in our local hospital. If I had been born only a couple of years earlier, the chances were high that I would not have survived!

This was because, although people suffered from celiac before 1960 when I was born, the doctors did not understand what caused it or how to treat it much before that time.

I will start this potted history of celiac disease in the 19th Century.


An ancient Greek text was translated for the Sydenham Society of England. It had been written in AD 250 by Arataeus of Cappadocia and is thought to have been the first mention of the condition.


Samuel Gee, a London doctor, was the next person to document celiac. Although understanding at this time was vague, he did realize that it was diet related, and that "farinaceous foods" (foods that contain starch) should be limited in a sufferers diet. 


A well respected pediatrician, Herter, wrote a book on celiac children.

In fact his name was added to Gee's and used to describe the condition - Gee-Herter's Disease.


Understanding moved on when Sir Frederick Still realized that bread was involved in some way.


Taking this further, Howland suggested a form of elimination diet, which gradually introduced carbohydrates back into the diet at Stage 3.


Sidney Hass recommended that bananas were the answer to the condition! He published a medical paper outlining his "banana diet" which restricted other forms of carbohydrates, thereby unknowingly cutting out many foods containing gluten.


Willem-Karel Dicke, from Holland, made a breakthrough! He deduced that certain grains were at fault. This understanding came about due to the improvement of children during the war, when grains such as wheat, rye and barley were in short supply. After the war, the children's health deteriorated as those grains were easier to get hold of and began to play a bigger part of their diet again.


Sidney Hass and his son, published a text book named The Management of Celiac Disease.


After studying the bowel motions of sufferer's Dicke discovered that gluten was the culprit! The gluten free diet was outlined and used to treat celiac sufferers from that point forward. 


Dr Paulley, in Ipswich, UK, described that celiac affected the small intestine causing inflammation, although he was not sure why this happened.


Margot Shiner developed the technique of the intestinal biopsy capsule, which helped to diagnose celiac in children.


Cyrus Rubin discovered that childhood and adult celiac were the same disease.


I was born in the July and diagnosed with celiac around Christmas that year. 


Detlef Schuppan, in Germany, introduced a simple blood test to diagnose celiac, after understanding how the autoimmune system was affected by enzymes released by the small intestine.

In Summary

The history of celiac disease did not end there. Continuing research and clinical trials suggest that one day there might be a non-dietary method of treating celiac.


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