People Have Suffered From Gluten Intolerance For At Least 2,000 Years​

Analysis of the skeletal remains of an affluent young woman who lived in Tuscany some 2,000 years ago shows that celiac disease has existed since ancient times — as has the practice of avoiding certain foods.

The woman's remains were found in an ancient tomb at the Cosa archaeological site on the Tuscan coast in Italy. Based on the archaeological evidence, she was quite wealthy and would have had access to all sorts of food. She was only about 18 to 20 years old when she died.

But her bones showed the tell-tale signs of malnutrition and osteoporosis, both indicators of untreated celiac disease, a condition characterized by a severe allergic reaction to gluten in the intestinal lining (typically ingested via wheat-based food products). Many of her bones were eroded at the tips, and she stood just 4 feet, 7 inches tall (140 cm).

What's more, DNA evidence adds credence to the theory; she carried two copies of an immune system gene variant associated with celiac disease — the exact same variant found in people living today with celiac.

And as Ewen Callaway reports in Nature News, she may have adjusted her diet accordingly:

To determine if the woman altered her diet, [the researchers] analysed carbon and nitrogen isotopes in her bones, which tend to relate to food intake. The chemicals cannot reconstruct a person's diet perfectly but instead paint broad brushstrokes of the consumption of foods such as plants, meats, freshwater fish and seafood. They can also indicate whether an individual consumed foods that were different from others.

Scorrano and his team found that the young woman would have consumed more meat and possibly freshwater fish and fewer plants than did people living in the area in the sixth century and medieval times. Carbon and nitrogen levels in her bones were also distinct from those in most other inhabitants from the Imperial Roman period previously sampled, but similar to those in bones from an early Christian burial site in Rome, where individuals may have favoured freshwater fish.

In other words, she may have adopted a more paleo-like diet.

Callaway goes into more details in his article, including the notion that she may not have actually understood her condition. Read it all here.

Read the entire study at American Journal of Physical Anthropology: "Palaeodiet reconstruction in a woman with probable celiac disease: A stable isotope analysis of bone remains from the archaeological site of Cosa (Italy)."

Image: Soprintendenza ai Beni Archeologici della Toscana.