Celiac Disease – A Little History

Dr. Alessio Fasano is the director of the Center for Celiac Research in Baltimore.  Lucky for me, I live in Maryland and have heard him speak at support group meetings a number of times over the nine years I’ve had celiac disease.  If you ever have the chance to hear Dr. Fasano speak, take it.  He is humorous, and has an ability to take technical medical information and make it understandable for the average person.  He also uses lots of pictures which I find helpful.

Dr. Fasano spoke at our support group meeting Friday night and I want to pass some of the information on to you.  I will do it in four parts over the course of this week.

The Banana Babies
One interesting bit of history that I had not heard before took place in the 1930’s.  Here in the U.S., parents of young children who presented with symptoms of celiac disease would take their children to the doctor.  If he was sharp, the doctor recognized it as a particular digestive problem.  The parents were then asked to leave their child at the hospital for six months.  (Yes, 6 months!)  While at the hospital, the children were fed nothing but bananas.  That’s right.  Bananas and only bananas for six months.  Some of them got better, others didn’t make it.  They became known as the banana babies.

How the Gluten-Free Diet Began
It was a Greek scientist who first described this disease of the gut and gave it a name, but it wasn’t until after World War II that the cause of  the problem was found.  A pediatrician in the Netherlands noticed the mortality rate among children affected by celiac disease dropped from more than 35% to almost 0% during the war.  At the time, there was a shortage of wheat so corn flour was used instead.  When the war was over, and wheat was used once again, the doctor observed that the mortality rate rose to its previous height.  It was later discovered that gluten was the offending part of the grain and was also found in rye and barley.

This post is part one in a series.  You can read the subsequent posts here:

Celiac Disease – Three Causes
Celiac Disease & Leaky Gut
Celiac Disease – The Future

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