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How a Miracle Cure for Celiac Disease Backfired

Bananas were once seen as a miracle cure for celiac disease. What happened?

Why were bananas once regarded as a cure for celiac disease? Image: CC--jster 06/22/2017 - Once upon a time, bananas were thought by many doctors to possess tremendous healing properties. Bananas were used to help diabetics to use weight. Doctors told mothers to feed bananas to their infants starting at 4 weeks. And for a long time, the diet seemed to help people "recover" from celiac disease.

Invented by Dr. Sidney Haas in 1924, the high-calorie, banana-based diet excluded starches, but included bananas, milk, cottage cheese, meat and vegetables.

The diet was so effective in celiac disease patients that it was adopted by numerous doctors, and endorsed in the 1930s by the University of Maryland, according to pediatric gastroenterologist Alessio Fasano, chair of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a specialist in celiac disease.

The general public picked up the trend, and embraced bananas as one of the great health foods. But, whatever the medical and public perception about bananas may have been, Dr. Haas was wrong about the curative powers of bananas, and that seemingly honest mistake had long-term consequences for numerous patients with celiac disease.

That's because the bananas did not cure the condition, as was commonly thought. The bodies of the patients involved did not become tolerant to wheat. So, when they reintroduced wheat into their diets, as many did, assuming they were cured, they suffered physical consequences.

One such patient was Lindy Redmond, whose celiac disease was “cured” with the banana diet as a child. "All my life I have told doctors I had celiac as a child," says Lindy Redmond, "and that I grew out of it. And all my life I have eaten wheat."

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Thinking she was cured, but suffering years of symptoms, Redmond, at 66 years old, finally underwent a gluten-antibody test and and received an intestinal biopsy.

"My intestine was very damaged," she reports. "My doctor said she didn't know if it would ever recover." It was then that Redmond wondered about the possible connection between lifelong, untreated celiac disease and her two miscarriages, frequent bouts of colds and bronchitis, and interminable constipation. Now 74 and off gluten, Redmond says the colds and constipation are gone.

It wasn't until 1952 that Dutch pediatrician, Willem Karel Dicke, and his colleagues identified gluten as the trigger for celiac disease, and the gluten-free diet was born.

But Haas railed against the gluten-free diet and went on promoting his banana-based cure, claiming that only the banana diet could achieve "a cure which is permanent."

The European medical community quickly adopted Dicke's gluten-free diet treatment, but in the United States, at least partly due to these erroneous medical beliefs, celiac disease remained under-diagnosed, and many patients suffered needlessly.

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4 Responses:

mark liebergall
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said this on
26 Jun 2017 11:29:05 PM PST
This article is misleading and to a large extent completely wrong about Dr. Haas' positions regarding gluten and other carbohydrates. Dr. Haas´ research led to the creation of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet - which forbids any grains and starch at all. It is a scientific diet used to treat ulcerative colitis, Crone's, Cystic Fibrosis, Celiac and other auto-immune and gastric disorders. He is one of the important contributors to our understanding of how food and the bodies processing of food contributes to the functioning of our bodies, including the brain. The author writes from a simplistic point of view better used to describe a baseball game. He does not understand the nature of the scientific process and how scientific knowledge is accumulated. Science is not a competition. Each scientist adds a little and knowledge builds. This is a very unfair article to all the scientists mentioned and to the continued understanding of the cellular biology of food´s interaction with our bodies. The tone of the article itself, as prefaced by the headline, is sensationalist and at heart mean. The writer clearly doesn't care about the truth of the subject at all.

Jeff Adams
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said this on
29 Jun 2017 3:35:45 PM PST
No one is sought to minimize or mischaracterize Dr. Haas' contributions to medicine. At the time, the banana diet was not an unreasonable treatment for celiac disease. The condition can be controlled with such a diet. The Specific Carbohydrate Diet was also an important contribution to medicine. However, with respect to bananas curing celiac disease, Dr. Haas was simply wrong. His diet did not cure the condition, as he strongly maintained. The gluten-free diet was, in fact, a superior treatment for celiac disease. The fact is that Dr. Haas continued to advocate his banana-based diet, and continued to claim that it was the only diet that could achieve "a cure which is permanent" for people with celiac disease.

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said this on
28 Jun 2017 8:40:37 AM PST
The Specific Carbohydrate Diet is intended to remodel the community of flora and fauna in the gut by essentially feeding them by modifying what we eat in order to create a healthier gut microbiome. It is sad that this article ignores the re-emerging study of the human microbiome, which I feel is one of the most promising fields of study for all auto-immune mediation, and instead frames Dr. Haas' research as sort of a wacky fad diet. Dr. Haas was regarded as the world's foremost celiac expert.

Jeff Adams
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said this on
29 Jun 2017 3:43:51 PM PST
This article does not address Dr. Haas' research in general. It focuses only on the fact that the banana diet was once seen as a cure for celiac disease. That was not true, as Dicke's research later showed. Even in the face of Dicke's claims to the contrary, Dr. Haas continued to suggest that with his diet “There is complete recovery with no relapses, no deaths, no crisis, no pulmonary involvement and no stunting of growth” after these patients were on the diet for at least a year. " Whatever merits Dr. Haas' diet may have, even for celiacs, these claims for total cure are not borne out by science.

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