Celiac disease is a genetic digestive disorder in which the person eats food that contains gluten, “their immune system responds by damaging or destroying villi–the tiny, fingerlike protrusions lining the small intestine. Villi normally allow nutrients from food to be absorbed through the walls of the small intestine into the bloodstream. Without healthy villi, a person becomes malnourished, no matter how much food one eats…. an abnormal immune reaction to gluten” (“Celiac Disease” 2).
Diagnosing celiac disease can be very difficult because its symptoms are very similar to other diseases. Celiac disease can be confused with “irritable bowel syndrome, iron-deficiency anemia caused by menstrual blood loss, inflammatory bowel disease, diverticulitis, intestinal infections, and chronic fatigue syndrome. As a result, celiac disease has long been underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed” (“Celiac Disease” 6).
“Today, it’s estimated that one in 100 people have celiac disease” (Parker-Pope 5). It is also estimated that 1.8 million Americans suffer from this condition, and “more than 2 million people in the United States have celiac disease but don’t know it” (Lapid 3). If people compare those numbers to numbers from 50 years ago, celiac disease has made a drastic jump; the number of people with celiac disease today is four times as greater. Many researchers believe that this large increase is by the way that wheat is grown and processed. Due to genetic engineering, wheat is able to grow faster and in larger quantities, but somewhere along the way it is more allergenic than it was when it first appeared.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for celiac disease. The only known treatment is to follow a gluten-free diet. Following this strict diet means that you can’t eat anything with flour. Gluten is also hidden in the places we would least expect it. “It makes soups and gravies thicker, and salad dressings creamier. It keeps yogurt and soft cheeses from getting runny, and dried spices from clumping in their little jars” (Lapid 3).
Celiac disease and gluten intolerance isn’t just a new condition that scientists just discovered. The earliest records of people reacting to gluten have been traced back to 250 A.D. Aretaeus of Cappadocia, one of the best doctors in ancient Greece, included intricate descriptions of an “unnamed disease” in his writings. Many of his patient’s symptoms he wrote, were the same symptoms that doctors look for in diagnosing possible celiacs.
In 1888, Dr. Samuel Gee was studying children’s dietary habits when he discovered that when some children ate certain foods, their bodies would react in different ways. He performed many tests, but two notable ones were the mussel diet, and the banana diet.
In the mussel diet, he fed a very ill child the best mussels every day during mussel season. He thrived, until the end of the season. His health declined, and he passed away before the next season could come.
With the banana diet, he selected 10 children, and gave eight of those 10 children a specific diet, which included bananas, and eliminated “all bread, crackers, potatoes and cereals” (Stone 7). All eight children that were on the diet were claimed to be cured, while the other two children who weren't on the diet died. “For several decades, the banana diet was the only cure for celiac disease” (Stone 7). Through these clinical trials, he proved his theory that regulating “‘the food is the main part of treatment. The allowance of farinaceous foods must be small, but if the patient can be cured at all, it must be by means of diet’” (Stone 6).
Even though Aretaeus and Gee made great discoveries in...