Skeletal Remains Show People May Have Been Allergic To Gluten For Thousands Of Years

Intolerance of other peoples' food intolerances is, however, a modern invention.
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If you avoid gluten then there’s a high likelihood that someone has made it their business to tell you that you shouldn’t. Here’s some ammunition for the next time someone tells you “gluten intolerance is just in your mind/a hipster fad” — 2,000 year old skeletal remains unearthed in Italy show signs of celiac disease.

Celiac disease (a severe sensitivity experienced by only a percentage of people who are gluten intolerant) is often perceived as a modern affliction. However, the remains of a young woman recently found at an archeological site on the Tuscan Coast of Italy may prove otherwise. Although the woman’s skeleton shows signs of malnutrition and osteoporosis, the gold and jewelery entombed with her indicate she was probably wealthy. To examine the discrepancy between the woman’s poor diet and her high social status, the researchers performed DNA analysis that revealed that she carried two copies of a gene variant associated with celiac.

Gabriele Scorrano, a biological anthropologist whose study on the skeletal remains was published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology this month, says the results of the DNA analysis and her inexplicable malnutrition might point to the earliest known example of celiac disease. After discovering her predisposition, Scorrano and his team then analyzed the carbon and nitrogen isotopes in her bones and compared the results to “other individuals recovered at the same site but from two later time periods” and  “other Italian archaeological sites dating to the same period.” The results indicate that the woman may have altered her diet to eat more meat and freshwater fish than her contemporaries.

The link between celiac disease and gluten wasn’t conclusive until the 1950s, so although analysis indicates that the woman may have changed her diet to improve her symptoms, Scorano doubts that she fully understood what was making her sick:

If she had excluded cereals from her diet she wouldn’t have experienced these problems […] Probably she didn’t understand she had this disease.

Dear Forgotten Gluten Sufferer, I am so sorry the world dealt you the cruel irony of being Italian and also allergic to all the best Italian foods. Rest In Peace–except please come back occasionally and haunt narrow-minded busybodies that insist gluten intolerance is not “a thing.” Somewhere, someone at an Olive Garden needs you.

(Nature News via io9, images via Trish)

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