Things are looking up for us Coeliacs. Supermarkets are now stocking more gluten-free food than ever before, restaurants are starting to give us a dish or two and best of all…we’ve been given our own week! That’s right people, this week is Coeliac Awareness Week and in celebration we’re giving away 2 x £25 vouchers to spend on goodies at our brand new online store. You’ll find the competition over on our Facebook page, but before you head off we thought we’d give you a (very) brief lesson on how man’s understanding of Coeliac disease has developed over the course of history…
As hunter/gatherers, man’s diet consisted largely of fruit, nuts and meat. The human stomach had evolved over the course of 2 million years with the ability to process food antigens ingested as part of this diet; however, in 10,000 BC we saw the Neolithic revolution – when the cultivation of plants would begin. Most individuals were able to adapt to these new proteins with no problems. Others weren’t so lucky and displayed signs of intolerance – what we now know as Coeliac disease.
It wasn’t for another 8,000 years, around the 1st Century AD, that the disease would be identified and named. Yep, that’s right. 8,000 years, and even then the understanding of the disease was still pretty poor. This initial observation was made by Greek genius Aretaeus of Cappadocia, who named the disease after the Greek word for abdomen – Koelia. His rather poetic musings went as followed: “If the stomach be irretentive of the food and if it pass through undigested and crude, and nothing ascends into the body, we call such persons coeliacs”.
Now, fast forward another 18 Centuries and we get to our next major coeliac milestone. In 1888, English doctor Samuel Gee publishes the first complete modern description of the clinical picture of coeliac disease, and theorises on the importance of diet in its control. Hoorah, finally we’re getting somewhere! Let’s not get too excited. Even by this point we still had no idea of what exactly caused the disease.
It wasn’t until World War Two that things became a little clearer. Willem Karel Dicke, a leading Dutch Paediatrician, noticed something interesting when bread shortages hit the Netherlands – The condition of children suffering from Coeliac Disease actually improved! This led to Dicke investigating the matter further and a few years later he released a set of seminal papers, documenting the role that wheat and rye play in the disease. Finally! Over the next seventy years we see a number of breakthroughs that allowed us to narrow down the cause of the disease (gluten, obviously) and to also successfully diagnose a patient as Coeliac with a good degree of certainty.
So, as you’ve just read, it’s taken just over 12,000 years to get to where we are today. Luckily, it takes a little less time to cook a Too Good To Be pie…