New research is suggesting that children who eat more foods with gluten before the age of two have a greater risk of developing celiac disease if they are genetically predisposed to the condition.
This study provides some insight into why some children who are genetically predisposed to celiac develop the disease while others do not.
Gluten Exposure At A Young Age
This study provides convincing evidence that the amount of gluten ingested at an early age plays a role in the development of celiac disease later in life.
For the study, researchers in Sweden matched 146 children with celiac disease to 436 children who didn’t have the disease. Each group shared the same gender, age, and combination of genetic risk factors for celiac disease. The children were between 15 months and 8 years old when they were diagnosed for celiac disease. The children’s gluten intake was tracked at 9, 12, 18 and 24 months of age.
The study found that children who consumed more than 5 grams of gluten per day before age 2 had a higher risk of celiac disease than those who consumed less than 3.4 grams of gluten per day.
What Have Other Studies Shown?
Overall, studies have delivered inconsistent results in attempting to determine whether early gluten consumption increases the likelihood of developing celiac disease. Previously conducted studies have found that there is no connection between early consumption of gluten, and even that late introduction of gluten may be a contributing factor to development of the disease later in life.
What this study doesn’t tell us is what can potentially happen later in life. Clearly, celiac disease can develop at any age, and can be triggered by a vast variety of circumstances and events. It would be interesting to follow these study participants later in life, to see if they later developed celiac disease.
Additionally, it is important to note that while the study found a relationship between eating more gluten early in life and celiac disease, this relationship is correlational, not causal. This means that the study did not determine a cause-and-effect relationship between early gluten ingestion and celiac, only that the two are connected.
Other factors influencing the study are that babies in Sweden tend to consume more foods that contain gluten, and also that they tend to be given foods containing gluten at an earlier age, when compared to other countries. This study’s interesting and important findings need to be replicated in other locations to provide us with further insights into this important discovery.
Gluten Concerns and Recommendations
Experts agree that it’s too early to draw definite conclusions about the study results, but that these results suggest that babies who have a genetic predisposition for celiac disease (especially those with a parent or sibling with celiac), may benefit from reducing their gluten intake before age 2. It is important to remember that reducing or removing gluten from a baby’s diet for the first two years of life will in no way guarantee that they will not develop celiac disease later in life.