I’m currently looking into IBS and its history, for a book I’m writing with dietitian Julie Thompson, and while flicking through a digitised edition of a medical manual from the 1920s – Dr William Osler’s The Principles and Practice of Medicine – I came across this extract on the ‘coeliac affection’.
” …. an intestinal disorder, most common in children between the ages of one and five, characterized by the occurrence of pale, loose stools, not unlike gruel or oatmeal porridge. They are bulky, not watery, yeasty, frothy, and extremely offensive. The affection has received various names, such as diarrhoea alba or diarrhoea chylosa. It is not associated with tuberculosis or other hereditary disease. It begins insidiously and there are progressive wasting, weakness, and pallor. The belly becomes doughy and inelastic. There is often flatulency. Fever is usually absent. The disease is lingering and a fatal termination is common. So far nothing is known of the pathology of the disease.”
‘A fatal termination is common.’ Imagine the fear of a parent of a coeliac child a hundred years ago dealing with this, and the helplessness of doctors. I researched and wrote about the history of coeliac disease in the introduction to my previous book – and it was and still is interesting to see how slow but steady the progress made over the last century has been. We are so used to expecting quick answers and rapid solutions that we easily forget that science and medicine takes time – witness the slow piecing together of answers that we’re working through right now with non-coeliac gluten sensitivity.
Anyway, you can read my short introduction on coeliac and gluten history for free on my book’s Amazon Kindle page here (click on the cover image / look inside, then scroll down a fair bit).
And what about the history of food allergy? Again, it’s the last 100 or so years when the key action has taken place. If you want to learn more about it, I would recommend Another Person’s Poison: A History of Food Allergy by Matt Smith.