While most of us only started hearing about gluten intolerance and celiac disease in recent years, in reality, celiac was turning up in the agricultural age of the Neolithic period, as our diets began expanding beyond the hunter/gatherer fare.
And about 8,000 years later, it got a name. (Ref. 1)
According to Dr. Stefano Guandalini, founder and director of the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, a Greek physician named Aretaeus of Cappadocia wrote about the disease in his “The Coeliac Affection,” dubbing it koiliakos, after the Greek word for stomach (koelia), and described the symptoms perfectly.
“If the stomach be irretentive of the food and if it passes through undigested and crude, and nothing ascends into the body, we call such people coeliacs,” he wrote in the first century AD.
While other doctors wrote about the symptoms of celiac after that, English doctor Samuel Gee, who died in 1911, gets all the credit for diagnosing what he called “celiac affection,” which he found occurred mostly in children.
Still, it wasn’t until 1990 that researchers tied celiac specifically to gluten intolerance.
While many of us are starting to notice the rising cases of celiac – at least the rising numbers of people talking about it – the question remains. Are cases really growing or do people see gluten intolerance as a trend?
Turns out, gluten intolerance – which can render the digestive system useless and impact the immune system – is not only real but is also growing.
Researchers from the Mayo Clinic compared 50-year-old frozen blood samples (taken from Air Force recruits) to recent samples and found that although the older samples contained gluten antibodies, which are markers for gluten intolerance, the contemporary samples had more. Fifty years ago, only 1 in 700 samples tested positive for gluten antibodies. Contemporary samples, however, showed that 1 in 200 has markers for the disease. (Ref. 2)
“Ten years ago I would have said this was a fad,” said Dr. Richard Auld, a gastroenterologist based in Sonoma County, California, said in an online interview. “But gluten allergy - autoimmune disease - is much more common now than 50 years ago.”
Is diet to blame?
Contemporary diets – which are heavier in processed wheat products than they once were – are probably one of the reasons for the rise in cases, but diet alone is likely not entirely to blame, experts say.
The disease could be the result of either gene or damaged gut flora that trigger an immune response that targets gluten as an invader. (Ref. 3)
Gluten, a protein in wheat, barley, and rye, triggers the immune response in people who are gluten intolerant... damaging the small intestine and leading to a wide range of debilitating symptoms including bloating, gas or abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation, fatigue, tingling or numbness in the hands and feet, skin rash, discolored teeth or loss of enamel, canker sores, irritability or other mood or behavior changes, joint pain, unexplained weight loss, difficulty gaining weight, delayed growth and missed menstrual periods.
Difficult to diagnose
But because many of those symptoms could be signs of other diseases, celiac remains difficult to diagnose.
It took former co-host of “The View” Elisabeth Hasselbeck – she first gained attention as a contestant on “Survivor: The Australian Outback” – years to be diagnosed with celiac disease, and she was so frustrated with her journey that she wrote “The G-Free Diet: A Gluten Survival Guide” to help others impacted by the condition.
According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, celiac is only cured by a diet free from any gluten. At the same time, it is the only disease that can be completely controlled through diet, which means avoiding all gluten, a process that requires extreme diligence.
Gluten hunt requires detective school
While the most common culprits are breads, cereals and other obvious products that include grains, gluten hides in unexpected places, including medications, communion wafers, soy sauce, frozen vegetables, canned soups and broths, potato chips, gravy, salad dressings, ice cream , candies (excluding dark chocolate) and a wide range of other surprising products. That means those who suffer from celiac disease have to become Sherlock Holmes at the grocery store, reading every label and researching products to determine if they items they’re buying are truly gluten-free. (Ref. 4)
Substitutes for gluten include brown rice, quinoa, corn flour, cornstarch, tapioca starch, potato flour, potato starch, almond flour, sweet rice, buckwheat, teff and lentils, most of which are much healthier than refined white flour.
That means those who decide to jump on the gluten-free bandwagon, even if they don’t have celiac disease could find their revised diet beneficial to their health.
“The G-free diet can help with weight management. It can elevate your energy levels, improve your attention span, and speed up your digestion,” Hasselbeck told ABC News, adding that those with diabetes especially can benefit from a diet plan free from gluten. (Ref. 5)
Why you might need a supplement
According to experts, the most common problem with a gluten-free diet is getting enough essential vitamins and minerals after banishing enriched foods from your diet.
While loading up on a rainbow of fruits and vegetables can help prevent deficiencies, our Core Wellness sets formulated with a blend of essential nutrients, enzymes, minerals, and vitamins can fill the void while potentially alleviating the symptoms of celiac at the same time.