Eating extra gluten in early childhood increases risk of celiac disease later in life, study says

Eating higher-than-average amounts of gluten during the first five years of life is associated with a higher risk of developing celiac disease and celiac disease autoimmunity later in life in genetically predisposed children, according to a study published in the journal JAMA Tuesday.

Eating just one extra gram of gluten per day during the first five years of life increases a predisposed child’s risk of developing celiac disease autoimmunity by 6.1 percent, and celiac disease by 7.2 percent.

For every additional gram of gluten consumed per day, the risk rises.

Gluten is the general name for the kind of proteins found in wheat, rye and barley, that those with celiac disease cannot properly digest. In celiacs, eating gluten triggers an autoimmune response in the small intestine, which, if recurring, damages the stomach lining and causes the body to have difficulty absorbing necessary nutrients.

Researchers studied data from 6,605 children from the U.S., Finland, Germany and Sweden, who participated in an observation birth cohort study, called The Environmental Determinants of Diabetes in the Young (TEDDY), that aimed to identify environmental triggers of Type 1 diabetes and celiac disease.

Newborns were enrolled in the study between 2004 and 2010, and all of them carried the HLA antigen genotypes associated with Type 1 diabetes or celiac disease. They underwent regular screenings to check for celiac disease autoimmunity and celiac disease from the age of two, and researchers periodically gathered data around the children’s gluten intake amounts.

Researchers focused on the 6,605 children for whom data on gluten intake was available.

Eighteen percent of those children, or 1,216 of them, developed celiac disease autoimmunity. Seven percent, or 447 children, developed celiac disease. The onset for a majority of these cases occurred when children were just two or three years old.

Researchers then compared the gluten intake data of the children who developed celiac disease autoimmunity or celiac disease with those who didn’t and determined that increased intake of gluten during the first five years of life is an independent risk factor in genetically predisposed children.