Ancient Roman gluten death seen
Young woman's skeleton shows 'signs of disease'01 April, 18:09
The skeleton was found in the ancient town of Cosa, today's Ansedonia, in southern Tuscany.
Giovanni Gasbarrini, a doctor at Rome's Gemelli Hospital, examined bone DNA from the woman, who died in the first century AD at the age of 18-20.
Gasbarrini, whose study has been published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, noted that the young woman's jewelry indicated she came from a wealthy family but her DNA suggested she died of malnutrition.
Gluten intolerance, or coeliac disease, prevents proper absorption of nutrients, leading to severe intestinal problems, physical wasting, and even lymphomas.
The skeleton was unusually small and showed signs of osteoporosis or bone weakness, Gasbarrini pointed out.
He said that because of her privileged circumstances the woman probably had a rich diet including wheat, a food packed with gluten.
Gluten intolerance affects an estimated one in 150 people but is rarely fatal today because its symptoms are easily spotted and sufferers avoid all foods containing gluten.
The first cases in history are believed to have been diagnosed by a celebrated ancient Greek physician, Aretaeus of Cappadocia (first century AD), who identified children in agricultural communities who presented stomach problems typical of the disease.
The latest discovery "could help reconstruct the phylogenetic tree of the disease," Gasbarrini said.