Evolutionary Origins of Celiac Disease
There are many human biological and social phenomena that have evolved over the years to help humanity optimally adapt to our ever-changing environment. Our bodies are constantly trying to help us thrive and live long, healthy lives. However, some evolutionary traits can become maladaptive—not suitable or even harmful to a person in the current situation. Celiac disease, for example, was born soon after the agricultural revolution due to changes in the diet that resulted in higher consumption in wheat.
For readers who might not be aware, wheat cultivation brought an end to an ages-old diet routine. As a result, people with weaker immune systems could not adapt to the new food and thus, suffered from the disease. Things took a rather ugly turn, as the condition began to genetically transfer to infants, resulting in hundreds and thousands of deaths.
As we know it, celiac disease was brought to light by a well-known Greek physician, Aretaeus. Aretaeus termed the condition ‘koiliakos’ after a Greek word ‘koelia’ that roughly translates as ‘abdomen’. He went on to explain the condition as the human body’s inability to retain food. However, it was only much later that the importance of studying the disease was recognized.
Dr Samuel Gee, an English lecturer and physician, published his celiac effect and strongly proposed a strict gluten-free diet as the solution to this ailment. It is rather disturbing that all the possible remedies proposed by various physicians and doctors over the years only reduced the disease’s effect to a certain extent and could not cure it at its root. Here, it must be noted that an early diagnosis of the disease was made possible, which helped a great deal in understanding the impact as well as the treatment.
Celiac Disease as We Know It Today
In the early 1920s, Dr Sydney Haas talked about how bananas seemed to help ease the symptoms of celiac. As a result, people started using the banana diet extensively and thousands of lives were thus saved. It was observed that people with celiac disease experienced difficulty digesting food items such as bread, cereals, and more as they accelerated swallowing of air. It wasn’t until World War II that a Dutch paediatrician noticed how lower consumption of bread improved the health of children and vice-versa.
After considering several observations, he published his work explaining the link between wheat and celiac illness, and finally, it was in the 1960s that the doctors could finally relate the disease with an unpleasant behaviour in the small intestine.
A few years later, the year 1997 witnessed a breakthrough when the autoimmune nature of the disease was exhibited after the discovery of an autoantigen inside the body of celiac patients. Finally, there was evidence that the consumption of gluten had a role to play in promoting the disease.
It was finally established that celiac disease is a long-term digestive disorder that comes into effect as an immune reaction to a specific form of gluten protein called ‘gliadin’. This reaction causes inflammatory damage to the mucosa’s inner lining and more often than not results in the dissimilation of minerals and malnutrition.
Identifying the Cause
Celiac disease is more common than expected, with one in every hundred people presenting with it. The development of celiac disease in an individual’s body is linked to the presence of the HLA-DQ2 or HLA-DQ8 genes. The immune system, in these people, reacts to gluten proteins which come from wheat, barley, rye, and oats. Because the cultivation process varies in crops such as oats, their effect on different people also varies. The most significant determinants of developing celiac disease are infections, emotional stress, surgery, and pregnancy, while factors such as the breastfeeding period, consumption of gluten at an early age may also contribute to the cause.
It has been observed that people who belong to a family with a history of celiac disease, who suffer from disorders such as Down-Turner syndrome, and who suffer from other immune-related diseases that affect liver or thyroid are more susceptible to developing celiac disease.
Treatment & Conclusion
Even though the treatment of this ailment has been underway since it was first detected, an effective medication that could keep a check on the disease has not been discovered yet.
Some of the most prominent experts in the field are constantly working to come up with reliable vaccines, medications, and treatments that could have a direct impact on the intestines and the immune systems of those with celiac disease but it needs to be understood that by the time something works out, staying as far away from gluten as possible is the only way out!