A little history about coeliac disease.



Did you think that coeliac disease was a modern disease? Or that it came about in the 1950s with the introduction of GMO crops?

If you did, think again. Coeliac disease has been documented since 250 A.D.!


Here is a little history:

250 A.D., The first description of coeliac disease was written by Aretaeus of Cappadocia in Greek. This included detailed descriptions of an unnamed disease in his writings. He described his patients as “koiliakos,” which meant suffering in the bowels.


1856, Francis Adams translated these observations from Greek to English for the Sydenham Society of England. He thus gave sufferers the moniker “coeliacs.” In one of the chapters, fatty diarrhoea is described for the first time in European literature, and an account is given of several other features including weight loss and pallor, and the way it affects both children and adults (2).


1888, Samuel Gee, MD presented clinical accounts of children and adults with coeliac disease at the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in the United Kingdom. He described the condition as

“a kind of chronic indigestion which is met with in persons of all ages”.

He noted that because of the wasting, weakness and pallor of the patient, the bowel complaint might easily be overlooked. He declared that regulation of food was important, suggesting that errors in diet might be the cause and concluded,

“but if the patient can be cured at all, it must be by means of diet” (2).

1908-1924 During this period it was noted that fats were better tolerated than carbohydrates in the diet. The only treatment was introducing food in stages to the coeliac patient over a period of months to years. Breads, cereals and potatoes were the last foods to be reintroduced. This was very time consuming but did have beneficial results (2).

1924, Sidney Haas recommended his famous banana diet based on the thinking that people with coeliac disease could not properly absorb carbohydrates and/or fat. The banana diet was a diet that restricted carbohydrates (except for ripe bananas), and fat. This diet was used extensively for many years.


In his famous paper, “The value of the banana in the treatment of celiac disease,” published in 1924, Dr. Haas described the following foods as a typical diet for a child with coeliac disease:

albumin milk, pot cheese, bananas (as many as the child would take, usually four to eight each day), oranges, vegetables, gelatin, and meat (3).

It was not until after the Second World War that an important discovery was made relating to the successful treatment of children and adults with coeliac disease.

1939-1946, Dutch pediatrician Willem Karel Dicke, MD noted that his paediatric patients improved when wheat was excluded from the diet and replaced with rice and maize flours. The discovery was due to the shortage of wheat grain during the war years in Holland (2).  These children deteriorated again when wheat was re-introduced post war.  

The link between the gluten component of wheat and coeliac disease was discovered in 1952 by a team of physicians from Birmingham, England (1). 

1954, John W Paulley noted the characteristic villous atrophy of the small intestine when taking samples during operations (1,2).

1960s Other features of coeliac disease were made clear. Its hereditary nature was recognized in 1965, and in 1966, dermatitis herpetiformis was linked to gluten sensitivity (1).


It does not stop there, many important discoveries were made after this time in relation to coeliac disease including the development of blood tests that are used today to diagnose coeliac disease.


1. De Rea, V., Caggiari,L.,  Tabuso, M.,  and Cannizzaro, R. “The Versatile Role of Gliadin Peptides in Celiac Disease.” Clinical Biochemistry 46.6 (2013): 552-60. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.

2. “History of Coeliac Disease.” Glutenfree Travel. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2014. <http://www.glutenfreetravel.com.au/history-of-coeliac-disease&gt;.

3.Thompson, Tricia. “The “banana” Diet for Celiac Disease « Gluten-Free and Nutritious Too!” GlutenFree Dietitian. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2014. <http://www.glutenfreedietitian.com/newsletter/dietcom-blog-the-banana-diet-for-celiac-disease/&gt;.


4 thoughts on “A little history about coeliac disease.

  1. The CDF had the 250 AD one as their fun fact one day! Great piece, I didn’t know the bit about the banana diet. Imagine if that was still the treatment for coeliac today! (At least it was gluten free) 🙂


  2. Pingback: A bit of positivity about progress. | Candie's Adventures in Gluten-Free Land

  3. Pingback: The gluten free grey area that should not exist. | Candie's Adventures in Gluten-Free Land

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