Celiac Awareness Month: The History of Celiac Disease


What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac Disease, or gluten intolerance, as defined by the ADAM Medical Encyclopedia is a “condition that damages the lining of the small intestine and prevents it from absorbing parts of food that are important for staying healthy. The damage is due to a reaction to eating gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, rye, and possibly oats.”

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes the subject’s immune system to attack the villi, or lining, of their intestines. It occurs in individuals who are “genetically predisposed” which means that it is a genetic condition that can be triggered by environmental influences. The severity of the condition varies, but it can cause a wide range of intestinal problems, weight loss, fatigue, and many others. In the end, it’s most dangerous because it prevents the body from absorbing the nutrients it needs.

Celiac disease impacts somewhere between 1 in 1750 (based on clinical cases) and 1 in 105 (based on blood donor testing). Though it is difficult to identify due to the wide range of symptoms, diagnosis of the disease has increased dramatically in the past several years. Though this may be in part due to improved diagnostic practices, some studies indicate that celiac disease is actually on the rise in the United States.

There is currently no cure and the exact mechanism that causes the disease is still unknown. The treatment for celiac disease is a lifelong gluten-free diet. If you think you may suffer from celiac disease, contact your doctor to discuss treatment! This is just a beer blog after all!

A Brief History of Celiac Disease

  • 10,000 BC: Humans begin cultivating grains during the Neolithic Agricultural revolution. It is unlikely that celiac disease existed before this time.
  • 100-200 AD: Aretaeus of Cappadocia first describes celiac disease (and gives it a name) but fails to attribute it to the correct cause.
  • 1888: Pediatrician Samuel Gee gives the first modern description of the disease and attributes it to diet. He recommends a low-carb diet, but cut out many foods that would have been safe.
  • 1924: American pediatrician Sydney V. Haas prescribes a diet of bananas to treat the disease, which remains popular for several years.
  • 1944: Dutch physician Willem Karel Dicke links celiac disease to wheat. In the Dutch famine of 1944, he observes that the prevalence of celiac disease in children drops to nearly zero due to the shortage of bread and then reappears after the famine.
  • 1952: Dicke and a team in England link celiac disease to gluten.
  • 1954: British physician John W. Paulley discovers villous atrophy (damage to the intestine) in samples taken during surgery.
  • 1956: Based on Paulley’s research, Gastroenterologist Margot Shiner develops a way to diagnose celiac disease involving a biopsy to analyze the damage to villi.
  • 1989: Immunologist Ludvig Sollid’s group narrows down the genetic risk for the disease to two versions of the histocompatibility leukocyte antigen (HLA) molecule, which influences the immune system.
  • 1997: Gastroenterologist Detlef Schuppan introduces a simple blood test to screen for celiac disease, based on his discovery that the antibodies of celiac patients attach a specific enzyme released from the cells of the intestine when gluten passes through intestinal wall.
  • 2010: Alessio Fasano discovers zonulin, which may increase intestinal permeability, and therefore vulnerability to celiac disease.

Want to learn anything specific about celiac disease? Let us know! We plan on publishing a few more posts during the month of May, and we’d love to hear what interests you.