The History of Celiac Disease
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Sep 20 2008

The History of Celiac Disease

Between 9,000 and 4,000 BC, in the age when glaciers melted and the earth warmed, nomadic hunter-gatherers settled down to more agrarian pursuits and began to cultivate wheat as a source of food. The establishment of this behavior, as it spread from Southeast Asia throughout Europe, is considered to have contributed greatly to mankind’s early success.

The adoption of these new foods, however, was difficult for some. For these individuals and their descendants, a genetic susceptibility and the presence of wheat in the diet caused an inflammatory response in the intestines that lead to malnutrition that would prove fatal for some.

In the second century AD, a Greek physician known as Aretaeus of Cappadocia wrote what is thought to be an early description of this illness.  In this account, he referred to a condition involving a number of signs and symptoms, including bellyache that afflicted some children of his time. Some 1,700 years later, these writings were translated to English, and the Greek word for “bellyache” was anglicized to “Celiac,” which has since been used to describe the condition. Today, we know that Celiac Disease is an intestinal disorder that affects susceptible individuals when they are exposed to certain cereal grains in the diet.

Celiac Disease has long since been considered a relatively rare disease. Through the use of improved testing methods and increased awareness, however, it is now considered to be one of the most common lifelong diseases.  It is estimated that up to 1% of individuals who are of European descent have intolerance to the grains wheat, barley, and rye, and as many as 3 million people in the United States may be affected, or 1 in every 133 Americans.

For more information about Celiac Disease, check out our Celiac Disease FAQ.

Article Written by:

Kyle Eslick is the founder of Gluten Free Media, as well as the creator of the popular Celiac Support Groups page. Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and now Google+!

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  • James Grocock

    It is my understanding,that,following the work in Holland by Dr Dicke,who identified wheat as one of the “offending” grains,the actual identification of the gluten protein was carried out at the Birmingham(UK) Childrens Hospitan c.1953.I,myself,was recalled to the Birmingham Children’s Hospital in 1953,and placed on aGF diet.
    It was only later that the jejunum biopsy was developed,becoming the “gold”standard test for coeliac disease,till endoscopy became the new diagnostic tool.
    Just a point of interest,
    Jim G.

  • michael

    Just found out I have celiac.
    Born 1950, one parent from Poland.
    Looking for info.

    thank you