Remembering the children, especially “Mechie” who helped doctors identify gluten as the factor in wheat responsible for the deleterious effects of celiac disease
In Honor of Celiac Disease Awareness Month, Gluten Free Watchdog is writing a series of articles (the goal is one per day during the month of May) related to the gluten-free diet–currently the ONLY treatment for celiac disease.
“Based on the results of an investigation of a number of patients with coeliac disease, the harmful action of wheat flour was shown to be chiefly inherent to the gliadin fraction. —van de Kamer, Weijers, and Dicke. Acta Paediatrica. 1953;42:223-231
Dr. Dicke and colleagues are to be celebrated (placed on a pedestal even) for discovering the dietary cause for celiac disease. They came to these conclusions via the only means available to them at the time–feeding trials involving children (celiac disease was considered a disease of childhood). But let us also remember and celebrate the children with celiac disease who endured these experiments.
To determine the causative factor in wheat responsible for the deleterious effects observed in celiac disease patients, various fractions of wheat were assessed in numerous children. Children identified by the names Hendrika, Robert, Prudent, Maryan, Toos, Maria, and Jan participated in feeding trials involving either gluten or the gluten fraction gliadin.
Prior to narrowing the problematic fraction down to these two components*, one child endured feeding trials involving gluten, gliadin, glutenin, ash, fiber, and fat.
Study authors write, “To test all these fractions in the usual way on patients with coeliac disease would take a long time. Since one of the patients with coeliac disease happened to show an abnormally violent reaction to the administration of any form of wheat –3 to 6 hours after administration, severe abdominal pain, vomiting, pallor and sometimes even slight signs of shock—the action of the various wheat fractions was first investigated with this patient, the severe clinical symptoms serving as an indicator.”
This patient’s name was Mechie.
When we think about Dr. Dicke and his important discoveries let us also remember the children, especially Mechie who must have endured so much to help so many.
*The wheat prolamin gliadin and the wheat glutelin glutenin are both harmful to people with celiac disease. Please keep in mind that this is the early history of the gluten-free diet. We know more now.
Tomorrow’s post: Additional Reading for Celiac Disease History Buffs