Monday, July 10, 2017

Doctors Once Thought Bananas Cured Celiac Disease. They Saved Kids' Lives — At A Cost

The year was 1945, and 2-year-old Lindy Thomson had been given a few weeks to live. She suffered from diarrhea and projectile vomiting, and she was so thin and weak, she could no longer walk. Her parents had taken her from doctor to doctor. Finally, Dr. Douglas Arnold in Buffalo, N.Y., offered a most unusual prescription: She was to eat bananas.

"At least seven bananas a day," recalls the patient, who now goes by her married name, Lindy Redmond.

"To whom it may concern," the doctor wrote on a prescription pad that Lindy still has as a keepsake. Lindy Thomson "has celiac disease (a nutritional disorder)."

Arnold recommended that Lindy move to the clean mountain air in California and follow a high-calorie, banana-based diet invented by Dr. Sidney Haas in 1924. The diet forbade starches but included numerous daily bananas, along with milk, cottage cheese, meat and vegetables. It was so effective in patients with celiac disease that in the 1930s, the University of Maryland endorsed the diet, according to pediatric gastroenterologist Alessio Fasano, chair of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a specialist in celiac disease.

"At that time, around 30 percent of children with celiac died. Parents were instructed to drop their children off at the hospital for six months," says Fasano. If the children survived and thrived on the banana-based diet, the parents could then "pick them up and take them home."

We now know that celiac is an autoimmune disorder that strikes genetically predisposed people. It's triggered by gluten in grains such as wheat, barley and rye. In the presence of gluten, the immune system of people with celiac disease attacks the small intestine, damaging the precious, fingerlike projections called villi that line it. This damage can lead to malnutrition, as well as a panoply of problems — from gas and bloating to fatigue, anemia, osteoporosis and an increased risk of certain cancers. The disease is estimated to affect 1 in 100 people worldwide.

But in 1924, decades before gluten was discovered to be the culprit, celiac disease was a black box of mystery.

"The diet was unintentionally gluten-free and also incredibly high in calories," explains Tricia Thompson, founder of Gluten Free Watchdog. "It is incredible what the mothers and fathers did, going down to the docks to meet the ships and buy multiple bananas hanging on branches. So many people were so very grateful to him," she says of Haas. "He saved their lives."

Haas skipped over the role of wheat and focused instead on the exotic bananas, which he thought held curative powers. (Not unlike the esteem in which exotic "superfruits" such as mangosteen and acai berry are held today.) "Dr. Haas' approach," says Fasano, "was based on the fact that bananas had the best characteristics to counterbalance the purging diarrhea that was the typical clinical presentation of celiac disease at that time." - Read More, NPR

Doctors Once Thought Bananas Cured Celiac Disease. They Saved Kids' Lives — At A Cost


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