December 5, 2023

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Celiac Disease

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What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease, or CD, is an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system releases antibodies to attack detected gluten proteins. Individuals who have CD are permanently intolerant to the effects of gluten, which is a group of proteins found in wheat, barley and rye.

Gluten is toxic to people with CD. In a person with undiagnosed or untreated CD, the walls of the small intestine become damaged and unable to absorb nutrients properly. The longer that CD goes untreated, the more damage is done, leading to more severe malnutrition and possibly other diseases like cancer. While most clinicians focus on the damage these antibodies cause in the gastrointestinal tract, CD may also affect other organ systems.


Despite the relatively recent attention gluten-free diets have attracted (both good and bad), gluten intolerance (and the associated digestive problems) is not a new topic. Aretaeus of Cappadocia, a Greek physician living in the first century AD, originally named a disease as ‘koiliakos’ after the word ‘koelia’, meaning abdomen, which he described like this: “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.” Today we say that at least some of those people have Irritable Bowel Syndrome. At least Aretaeus gave us the word.

It took centuries of observation and research before we got closer to the understanding of gluten intolerance we have today. English doctor Samual Gee is generally credited with the modern description of celiac diseases, based on his treatment of patients using a gluten-free diet. Dutch pediatrician Willem Dicke identified a correlation between bread shortages in the Netherlands during World War II and the improved health of children living with celiac disease, publishing papers highlighting the role gluten derived from wheat and rye plays in celiac disease. In the 1950s, Margot Shiner biopsied the distal duodenum to connect celiac disease with the first ever recognizable pattern of damage to the proximal small intestinal mucosa. By 1964, gluten antibodies had been identified. By 1990 it was widely accepted that celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder.

Here are some non-profit organizations doing great work with this problem:

Here are a few more resources, for your convenience:

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