Banana's History of Coeliac

Banana's History of Coeliac

It's kind of fascinating to look back on the history of Coeliac and it's progression through the ages, it's nothing new like some people think!
In todays society we have it easy living on a gluten free diet, with all the gluten free products now on the market, and with many restaurants catering to our dietary needs it is simple to eat an exciting and nutritious meal as well as enjoy treats such as cake and biscuits, but back in the early 20th century things were far from easy.

A disease called "koilakos" meaning "suffering in the bowels" was referred to back in 250AD, this is believed to be the earliest report of Coeliac. In 1884 Dr Louis Duhring saw the first case of the skin representation of Coeliac Disease, Dermatitis Herpetiformis. The 1900's also saw Samuel Gee refer to adults and children suffering with diarrhoea and fatigue as suffering from the "Coeliac affection".

In 1924 a New York doctor, Sidney Haas, believed you could successfully treat children with Coeliac using the Banana Diet. Many children were sent to him on the brink of death, countless operations revealed nothing and children were given hours to live when their parents turned up at the doctors with painfully thin children suffering swollen stomachs and sunken eyes.

At the time it was widely believed that carbohydrates and sugars were the cause, but the starch in bananas was tolerable to suffers, the Banana Diet consisted mostly of albunim milk, pot cheese, oranges, apples, dates, vegetables, gelatin, meat and of course bananas, between 4 to 8 bananas were eaten by suffers everyday.

After a few years on the diet, sugars would be reintroduced and the sufferers found that they could tolerate them when reintroduced slowly and the stomach got used to them, at the time they and the doctor believed the diet had cured them of Coeliac.

By the mid 1940's when bread was short during the war it was noticed that the health of children suffering from Coeliac was beginning to improve, by the end of the 1940's/ealry 1950's it was recognised that wheat gluten was the cause, not sugars and starches, and a gluten free diet was slowly introduced to Coeliacs rather than the Banana Diet. People advised to go on the Banana Diet during the war saw bananas added to their ration books, with children in towns receiving banana from local greengrocers while their non coeliac friends and family weren't allowed them due to how scarce they had become.

Many on the Banana diet started to become lactose intolerant due to the amount they were eating plus gluten not being removed so unbeknown to sufferers back then, the bread they were still allowed to eat was causing more harm to their bodies and the bananas not actually "curing" them. Sufferers were also being to find raw fruit and veg hard to digest and bananas starting to cause pain.

The removal of gluten to Coeliacs diets in the 1950's began to see sufferers tolerate lactose again and raw fruits and veg easy to digest once more, plain biscuits and tinned gluten free bread were prescribed and a basic diet of fruit, vegetables and naturally gluten free products was usually followed due to the lack of "manufacturered" items such as biscuits, cakes, bread and pasta we see plenty of nowadays.

In the 1950's Coeliac diagnosis' quadrupled, with bread steadily becoming available again on the market, more people started showing symptoms once they started eating it again, and due to the greater understanding that it is actually gluten causing the symptons, a gluten free diet was now recommended and not the Banana Diet that others had been on previously, and sufferers symptoms dramatically improved. The 1950's also saw development of biopsy's to more accurately diagnose Coeliac, a small sample of the intestine lining was taken, same as today, in order to identify damage.

During the 1950's there was only one producer of gluten free food, Welfare Food' Rite Diet, their tinned gluten free bread, which was just about bearable toasted, was the only form of gluten free bread you could get, unless you could get your hands on some gluten free flour of course, you could get a plain biscuit on prescription but they were hard and often broke teeth, apparently they were very remeniscent of baby rusks.

The blood test which is the first method of diagnosis used today wasn't developed until the 1970's when it was identified that specific antibodies are produced as an autoimmune response to gluten. Like the biopsies this tTGA (Transglutaminase Antibodies) blood test is still in use today, but remains slightly more inaccurate than the biopsy. By 1990 confirmation of diagnosis could only be confirmed by a positive blood test followed by a biopsy.

These days we are lucky, I can't imagine living on a gluten free diet back in the 1950's, now we have access to many manufacturered, yet high sugar products easily accessible in supermarkets. We don't have to live on a resticted diet where we can't eat sweets because doctors think sugar is the cause of Coeliac, and even better we don't have to live on 8 bananas a day and think we are being "cured". As time passes more products come available, no more tinned tasteless bread or rock hard biscuits instead we are seeing gluten free ready meals appearing nearly as much as gluten containing, and a wide variety of treats on the market with new ones appearing all the time.

Despite a basic diet of fruit, vegetables and naturally gluten free produce probably being the best way to live as it excludes the unnecessarily high sugar levels and pointless additives, when you think about it the amount available is far superior to what it was even back a few years ago. If you don't feel like cooking you can fairly easily grab a ready meal, back 10, 20, 50 years you didn't have that choice, you had to cook, if you wanted to eat, you had no choice.

I hear people moaning about being diagnosed with Coeliac, moaning they can't eat something they ate just last week, sit back and think about how people back in the 70's must have felt... if you were lucky enough to even get a proper diagnosis then because the blood tests and biopsies were only starting to be used. Junk food was starting to become the norm then, and you couldn't eat it once diagnosed because of the gluten in it, and you definitely couldn't get a gluten free alternative, think about how you would have coped then, maybe you would try and come up with your own alternative at home or just do without, whichever choice you can't deny just how far both diagnosis techniques and gluten free food have come over the years, and will continue to improve. Who knows in 50 years, maybe gluten free will be the norm and it will be hard to find gluten products anyway, Coeliac is becoming so pronounced in todays society, that's a theory that possibly isn't too far fetched.

Your Comments

I have just turned 60 and I've actually been diagnosed twice with CD. When I was little as you mention here there were no definitive tests to prove CD but if it was suspected, a GF diet was recommended and if the child thrived and regained stature, it was assumed they had CD. This is what happened to me. My father, in desperation, took me to Great Ormond Street Hospital. I was seen by Dr Wilfred Sheldon and was sick on his lap! He was not perturbed by this at all, rather he could see I was definitely a poorly child. Think I was about 2 years old. So he recommended a GF diet and it was also thought then that you would 'grow out of it'. So when I was about 6 or 7 'normal' food was reintroduced and life carried on. On reflection I don't recall having good health particularly during my life though put on weight as appropriate. Rediagnosed in my mid twenties after noticing certain foods (spaghetti etc) had adverse reaction. Had blood test (negative) endoscopic biopsy (positive)

Georgina Howson - 16th May 2015

i to remember tin bread and i remember my mother telling me everybody round about gave her the bananas for me doctors had told them to take me home to die but my grandmother fed me on the white of eggs with tiny drop of brandy in it don't now if that helped but am still here to tell the tail i have been on and of the diet for years sometimes against doctors orders but i am now wiser and stick to my diet and would advice anyone to do the same as it is now easier to get things and is more widely known about when eating out or attending a party you can always find some food to take with you and most people will understand when you explain why you have to be careful more education on this condition is badly needed, even teaching in schools would go a long way and would help to get the message out there about how dangerous glutin in a Coeliacs diet can be and that anyone could eat glutin free bread without the effects there bread can have on people who have coeliac or glutin intolerant.

winifred walker - 21st June 2015

I was born in 1942. I was diagnosed with coeliac disease when I was three years old. I was put on the banana diet. They were hard to come by in the war years. As I got older I was admitted to hospital many times, I was put on a fat free diet. But never a gluten free diet. I just learned to live with the symptoms.. As I had my children I felt increasingly tired bloated. My mouth full was full of ulcers. The doctor referred me to the hospital for a biopsy. I went on the gluten free diet when I was 35 yrs old. I remember the tinned bread etc. I am in my 70s now and I find it is much easier now. One of my granddaughters was diagnosed with coeliac at aged 3 and with type 1 diabetes at 15. I just think that in the grand scheme of things, there far worse things to suffer from.

Brenda McGibbon - 28th June 2015

I had coeliac all my life from a baby was never in school i was just 40 when i found out had a major operation and dident need it

Beatrice Harris - 30th June 2015

I love this article, people laugh at me always offering or suggesting a banana if they have an upset tummy.
Bananas are great for settling upset tummies, they are great if you can't get something gluten free when out and about, they are also great for curing a hangover.
I eat 1 or 2 every single day :)

Helen - 20th October 2015

just to say I got diagnosis in the 80s and I remember the tinned bread it was vile as you say there wasnt much else to get I remember having nightmares about sausages I used to love them (they were different back then) I had been told I couldnt eat them anymore I was devastated :)

cathy crew - 20th October 2015

I was diagnosed coeliac in 2000 and find that bananas do not settle in fact I feel quite ill if I eat one,back in 1992_1996 whilst I was pregnant I was anemic so I ate bananas with no problem,I cannot understand why I find it hard now to digest them is there any answers to this?

Sandra wood - 21st October 2015

When I was a baby I was very ill, the docs told my mum and dad to put me away somewhere as I was retarded and they had other kids to look after. Thankfully they didn't listen to that. Another doctor put me on gluten free diet to see if it made a difference and yep it did. I've never looked back - I'm now 49

Clare mclaren - 3rd March 2018

shocking stories.. one of my older brothers died when he was two and started eating bread.. I was born next....wish I knew if c/d was from my mum or dad! dad was put in the army jail for a few days as he hit someone in charge of him for saying the banana thing was a funny brother was so ill before he died..I still hate this Banana story..they never got over it..all the best to all here!

heather Ray - 21st January 2019

I was diagnosed with coeliac disease in 1966 at the age of four years , I am now 58 years old, I also remember the tinned bread from rite diet, I also remember that rite diet made some little biscuits that came in a blue box, does anyone else remember them, my mum use to make biscuits and cakes for me using rite diet gluten free flour

Julie Watson - 19th June 2020

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