Celiac Disease’s Long History

Celiac disease has a long history and too many names. It is referred to simultaneously as coeliac disease or as celiac disease, then either celiac disease or celiac sprue disease. This frustrating and mysterious conditions got its name from Greek physician Aretaeus of Cappadocia. He called it koiliakos, which is based on the word koelia (abdomen in Greek).

What Is Celiac Disease (CD)?

CD represents an autoimmune disorder where consuming gluten triggers its symptoms and ailments. It is believed to be a genetic disorder that only manifests itself when the individual ingests gluten. Unfortunately, there are many degrees of gluten intolerance, and not all of them can be verified with certainty through current testing methodologies.

Who Named This Troubling Digestive Disorder?

Aretaeus of Cappadocia named it celiac disease because it was the first condition observed where well-fed children showed signs of undernourishment. He specifically applied his discovery and title to something he believed was experienced primarily by children. The word celiac, or coeliac, has its origins in the Greek word for abdomen: koelia.

When Did the Modern Medical World Start Exploring CD?

In the late nineteenth century, a British physician named Samuel Gee covered celiac disease in a well-known lecture. He described it as a form of chronic indigestion than anyone of any age could suffer. However, like Aretaeus, Gee also believed it mostly affected children. Gee was the first researcher to suggest that “errors in diet” could cause CD to manifests itself in its sufferers.

When Did We Discover That Gluten Was the Trigger?

Not long beyond the end of World War II, a Dutch pediatrician named Willem-Karel Dicke analyzed data and discovered a pattern: A Netherlands bread shortage during the war virtually eliminated the number of deaths among children attributed to coeliac disease.

His continued studies also revealed that the death rate among celiac children in the Netherlands then rose after the war ended and bread became widely available again.

Following his observation and epiphany, many other researchers broke down the proteins in wheat until they discovered that gluten was the culprit. Once gluten was isolated as the trigger, researchers were able to begin focusing their attention on how and why some people experienced gluten intolerance.

And that is how we have come to where we are in our understanding of various forms of gluten sensitivities. Unfortunately, we still don’t understand all forms of gluten intolerance and why some people who test negatively for celiac disease may still suffer from significant gluten intolerance.

Michael Ortiz

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