Too much gluten may trigger coeliac disease in babies

By Natalie Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

“Our findings indicate that the amount of gluten triggers the disease,” said Lund University researcher Carin Andrén Aronsson .© iStock/Baltskars
“Our findings indicate that the amount of gluten triggers the disease,” said Lund University researcher Carin Andrén Aronsson .© iStock/Baltskars

Related tags Coeliac disease

High gluten intake before the age of two carries coeliac disease risk, researchers say, challenging coeliac development links with breastfeeding and age.

The new doctoral thesis is based on data from around 8,700 Swedish, Finnish, German and American children with a genetic risk of coeliac disease. The children took part in a series of studies collectively known as the TEDDY project​ (The Environmental Determinants of Diabetes in the Young).

One TEDDY study – a Swedish cohort​ – found children eating more than 5 g per day of gluten were more than twice as likely to develop coeliac disease than those who ate less.

And though a popularly held belief that introducing gluten too early (before 17 weeks) or too late (after 26 weeks) is linked with development of coeliac, the TEDDY team found no links, study unit manager Carin Andrén Aronsson from Lund University said.

The data debunked the theory that optimal breastfeeding durations could lower the risk.

“Our findings indicate that the amount of gluten triggers the disease,”​ Aronsson said. “These findings may be taken into account for future infant feeding recommendations."

The results are in line with an Italian paper​ earlier this year, which found no relation between avoiding gluten at specific times, or with protective properties of breast feeding against coeliac development.

Risky Sweden and probiotics

The risk of developing coeliac disease is highest for babies in Sweden, Lund University said.

The plan now is to run a large study investigating the level of gluten intake and whether there are variants in the Swedish diet which contribute to the development of autoimmune disease.

“More in-depth studies could perhaps contribute to explaining why Swedish children develop celiac disease earlier than children in other countries,”​ Aronsson said.

“We will expand the study with children from the other participant countries and increase the follow-up period in comparison with our previous studies, from two to five years.”

The researchers also plan to look at the addition of probiotics to childrens’ diets to find out whether it could affect the risk of coeliac.

“With more knowledge about the significance of diet, I hope it will become possible to personalise the diet instead of having general dietary guidelines as we have today,”​ Aronsson said.

The gluten issue

Gluten has been the subject of hot debate in recent years with the rise of ‘trendy’ gluten-free eating among people not diagnosed with coeliac disease.

The baby gluten-free market is already 'booming​'​ with parents’ increasing awareness of coeliac hazards, and products free of gluten have therefore become more present​ on our shelves.


However, a recent study​ suggests the gluten-free trend is not just a fashion statement for non-coeliacs, but that there are more people intolerant to gluten than previously thought.

True coeliac numbers are drastically on the rise, Allergy UK also told this publication​ in 2014.

Yet, earlier this month​, a team of Rutgers New Jersey Medical School researchers debated whether recent studies stating a rise in coeliac prevalence were sufficient.

Commenting on the study, Professor Anthony Frew, Royal Sussex County Hospital said: “The tendency to blame gluten for a variety of ailments has increased in recent years – there is absolutely no evidence that wheat-free diets are intrinsically ‘healthy’.

“There are some people who are not coeliac but are intolerant of wheat and get bloating, abdominal discomfort and variable bowel movements after eating wheat, which most doctors would label as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This is not a new phenomenon and relates to undigested wheat getting into the large bowel where it is fermented and produces gas which in turns causes bloating, wind etc.”


Source: Lund University, Faculty of Medicine

Defended on 23rd​ September 2016

“Infant Feeding Practices and the Risk of Coeliac Disease” – ​doctoral thesis

Author: Carin Andrén Aronsson

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