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Early Gluten Exposure Prevents Celiac Disease

A new Swedish study, led by Dr. Anneli Ivarrson, pediatrician, suggests that introducing gluten (protein found in barley, rye, wheat and related grains) to infants between 4 and 6 months while still breastfeeding may reduce risk of celiac disease (a common intestinal disorder). This however, does not apply for inherited genes. The study was recently published online in the journal Pediatrics.

Since the finding may sound contradicting as the disease is brought about by foods containing gluten that damages the lining of the small bowel or intestine, the research team speculate that there may be a chance in which the infant can develop tolerance to the protein thereby reducing the risk of getting the disease.

The study involved comparison of two batches of Swedish children. The first batch included children born in 1993, the time when there was a quadruple increase in diagnosis of celiac disease. The other batch was born in 1997, when the number declined by about the same rate. The findings reveal that children born in 1997 had lower risk of having celiac disease by 25% versus those born earlier.

The researchers noted that the decline in diagnosis in 1997 was the result of changes in feeding of infants, where in 1996, experts recommended introduction of gluten from 4 months on, whereas in 1982, gluten was not given until an infant was 6 months old, as recommended by experts then.

Ivarsson however, noted that they have no proof on the chances of infants developing tolerance to gluten if they are given to them from 4 months on while breastfeeding is ongoing. She added that if a child shows symptoms of disease such as chronic diarrhea or constipation and abdominal cramping or gas, treatment must be sought immediately.



Doheny, K. Early Exposure to Gluten May Help Babies Avoid Celiac Risk: Study. Health Day.



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