In the latest study regarding allergy development in children; it seems that the risk for developing the allergic/autoimmune disorder known as celiac disease might be eliminated if infants were exposed to gluten as early as 4 months of age.
The observation is based on work with 1,300 infants. Half were exposed to solid foods — including wheat protein — at an age that conflicts with current breastfeeding guidelines. Among those who were, none developed celiac disease.
“It was a surprise,” said study author Dr. Gideon Lack, a professor of pediatric allergy and immunology at King’s College London. “But if this study is correct, it would indicate that in order to prevent the development of celiac disease, we would need to introduce significant quantities of wheat into a baby’s diet as of 4 months of life.”
But Lack cautions that this is not a definitive result for the discussion.
“This is one study with a relatively small number of patients,” he said. “And, therefore, it cannot be regarded as conclusive, and clearly demands further study and investigation.”
Celiac disease is an inflammatory condition where consuming gluten damages the small intestine. It can cause poor absorption of nutrients.
“In some ways it’s an allergic disease inasmuch as it is triggered by eating gluten, which is a major wheat constituent, although it’s also present in barley and rye,” Lack said. “And in other ways it is an autoimmune disease, in that the body launches an immune response, and that response becomes redirected against the lining of the small intestine.”
About 1% of the population is affected, he added. In children, celiac disease it can go undiagnosed for many years, leading to poor growth and malnutrition. Given the test size of 750 infants who were given gluten; statistically at least 7 should have developed the disease. That none did is interesting.
Seeing as there are no other strategies for preventing the development of celiac disease, it might be something to consider. Introducing gluten to young infants could prevent it’s development at an older age.
The findings were published online Sept. 28 in JAMA Pediatrics.