It’s nearly impossible to go to a restaurant or a supermarket now and not be bombarded with labels touting “gluten free” ingredients and recipes.

Today people are acutely aware of an allergy to a protein in wheat, barley and rye. This allergy is called celiac disease.

 

With all of the sudden attention to this disease, it almost seems like a recent discovery. But, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation, it has been acknowledged for nearly 2,000 years.

It was ancient Greece, in fact, where a physician first noticed patients that presented with diarrhea and malabsorption. They used the term “coeliac,” from the Greek word for abdominal, to describe the condition and the modern name evolved from there. Much later, during the food supply shortages of World War II, European doctors noticed that fewer children were dying from this disease as wheat became a rare commodity. This link started the decades-long research of wheat, gluten, and celiac disease.

The Mayo Clinic explains that when those with celiac disease eat gluten, it creates an immune reaction in the small intestine. With continued exposure, this response will damage the lining of the intestine and affect the way the body digests food and absorbs nutrients from it. Side effects from this malabsorption can include chronic diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, and more. At this time, there is no reliable cure for this disease but abstaining from gluten entirely can prevent nearly all of the complications from the disease.

Despite the widespread coverage of celiac disease recently, Stefano Guandalini, a doctor at the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, points out that gluten has been around since wheat was cultivated over 10,000 years ago and has remained largely unchanged over the years. It is estimated that about 1 percent of the population has celiac disease and many of those people are currently undiagnosed. More alarming is that celiac disease does seem to be becoming more common as only about .2 percent of the population were estimated to have it in the 1950s. Although many people probably don’t have to worry about this affliction, greater awareness of any illness is always helpful with prevention and finding a cure.*