A recent international study suggests that eating higher-than-normal levels of gluten can increase a child’s likelihood of developing celiac disease. The study, following more than 6,600 children in the United States, Finland, Germany, and Sweden, has found that consuming more wheat and gluten during the first five years of life can raise the risk of celiac disease in children at risk of the condition. The results of the study have been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics.
The children participating in the study were all born between 2004 to 2010 and carried a genotype associated with celiac disease. Roughly 40 percent of the population carries genes which make them vulnerable to the condition. The Celiac Disease Foundation says that a person with a parent, child or sibling who has celiac disease carries a 10 percent chance of developing the disorder themselves.
During the study period, the researchers tracked the children’s diets and gluten intake based on three-day food diaries taken at six, nine and 12 months, and then biannually until the age of five. By the end of the study, nearly 20 percent of the children developed celiac disease autoimmunity while about 7 percent developed celiac disease. The majority of the diagnoses occurred between the ages of 2 and 3.
The researchers discovered that every extra daily gram of gluten eaten by the children increases their risk of celiac disease if they are genetically predisposed to it. A gram of gluten is the equivalent of a half-slice of white bread. More research is needed before doctors can offer parents advice about whether they should be avoiding gluten their young child’s diet. Healthy foods that contain gluten can also be high in fiber and other nutrients children need to grow properly.