Feeding Babies Gluten May Increase Risks for Celiac Disease

January 28, 2016
Rachel Lutz

The risk of developing celiac disease might be increased in at-risk infants if they are fed gluten, according to findings from a study conducted in Sweden published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

The risk of developing celiac disease might be increased in at-risk infants if they are fed gluten, according to findings from a study conducted in Sweden published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

A multifaceted team of researchers observed more than 400 babies who were breastfed for about 32 weeks to investigate whether the amount of gluten in diet until two years of age increased the risk for celiac disease. The babies were introduced to gluten at 22 weeks and gluten intake was calculated from three day food records collected at ages nine, 12, 18, and 24 months. Celiac disease was confirmed using intestinal biopsies.

The researchers added that there were two factors that must be activated in order for the babies to be at risk for celiac disease: they had to be exposed to gluten as well as carry one of the HLA haplotypes DR3 DQR or DR4 DQ8. In this study, they said in a press release, the link between gluten intake during the first two years of life and development of celiac disease was not different between the two HLA haplotypes.

The amount of gluten consumed until the infants turned two increased their risk for developing celiac disease — the risk was increased at least twofold in genetically susceptible children, the researchers said.

“The role of gluten intake in infants and the risk of later developing celiac disease has long been debated,” lead study author Carin Andrén Aronsson, MSc continued in the statement. “Our study provides convincing evidence that the amount of gluten ingested at an early age plays a role in disease course, particularly in children with genetic risk of developing celiac disease.”

One important note that the researchers highlighted was that in Sweden, infant feeding practices differ widely from other European countries and the United States — it is traditional in Sweden to feet infants food that contain gluten at an earlier age and in greater amounts.

As such, the researchers said similar studies from other countries must be conducted in order to confirm the findings and determine if gluten intake during infancy actually triggers celiac disease in young children. But, the researchers said these findings might influence future infant feeding recommendations.

“This finding offers insight into why some, but not all, children at genetic risk develop celiac disease,” concluded Aronsson.