Celiac disease has been around for a long, long time. Yet most of us assume it to be a recent discovery. Here is more on the history of celiac disease, as well as some other celiac disease facts.

Celiac Disease Summary of its History in Facts.
Celiac Disease Summary of its History in Facts.
Graphic by Haydee Vanegas.

An autoimmune disease is one in which the body attacks itself. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder. When celiac disease patients ingest gluten, their immune systems overreact. That response damages their small intestine.

One in 100 people have celiac disease. It is one of the most misunderstood diseases. For that reason, individuals sometimes suffer for years without a proper diagnosis.

While its notoriety may be a recent development, celiac disease has impacted humans for thousands of years. For much of that time, however, it’s been misdiagnosed as some other illness.

Here is a brief history of celiac disease.

Early History of Celiac Disease

Celiac disease has a long history.
Celiac disease has a long history.
Graphic by Haydee Vanegas.
  • Most of us know that early humans were hunters and gatherers. As such, our diets consisted of mostly meat, fruits, and nuts. It wasn’t until the Agricultural Revolution much later that humans started cultivating grains.
  • Around the 2nd century A.D, Aretaeus of Cappadocia named the disease koiliacos. He described the condition as malabsorptive diarrhea, in which the stomach cannot retain and doesn’t digest the food that has been consumed.
  • In the 18th century, Dr. Matthew Baillie published his own observations about celiac disease. He found that a distended stomach, gas, and diarrhea were related in some patients. He also suggested that both conditions caused malnutrition. Baillie wrote of how a patient’s condition changed when switched to a diet entirely based on rice.
  • Then, in 1888, Dr. Samuel Gee gave a modern description of the disease, and attributed the condition to diet. At the time, Gee was recommending a diet low in carbohydrates to children with chronic indigestion. He noted improvements in them.

More Recent Celiac Disease Discoveries

We learned quite a bit more about celiac disease during the 20th century.
We learned quite a bit more about celiac disease during the 20th century.
Graphic by Haydee Vanegas.
  • In 1924, Dr. Sidney Haas began treating children with celiac disease using the Banana Diet, determining that carbohydrates were the culprit food in their suffering. Haas didn’t realize that it was actually the presence of gluten specifically that was the issue for these individuals.
  • Twenty years later, in 1944, Dr. William Dicke first suggested a link between celiac disease and wheat. He made this determination after observing that patients with celiac disease seemed to improve during World War II, when access to wheat was limited. In 1952, after performing several studies, Dicke and his team were able to confirm the link.
  • At some point during the 1990s, celiac disease was defined as an autoimmune disease and associated with both thyroid issues and diabetes. Around this same time, the genetic markers HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8 were identified, along with the anti-transglutaminase antibodies.

Today’s Understanding of Celiac Disease

Our knowledge of celiac disease continues to build.
Our knowledge of celiac disease continues to build.
Graphic by Haydee Vanegas.
  • In 2005, Beyond Celiac was founded. This organization has devoted itself to continued research on celiac disease. Due to its efforts, there have been improvements in treatments, including a clinical trial that is currently in Phase 2.

Gluten-free labels are appearing left and right these days and celiac disease is a more recognizable term than ever before. Most would be surprised to hear of the long history of celiac disease throughout the world. With increased understanding, the hope is greater awareness and a cure in the not-so-distant future. That is why it is important to get to know more about it and share information with others.