About 1 percent of people have celiac disease, a genetic condition that prevents the small intestine from properly breaking gluten down. Photo by Ari N/Shutterstock
LUND, Sweden, Nov. 12 (UPI) -- Researchers in Sweden found infants genetically at risk for celiac disease double the risk of developing the disease if fed gluten before age two.
Overall, studies have delivered inconsistent results in attempting to determine whether early consumption of gluten does indeed increase the likelihood of developing the disease, researchers said. A study published in October found no link between early introduction gluten to an infant's diet and celiac disease, but concluded late introduction could be associated with an increased risk.
Celiac disease, which effects about 1 percent of people, is a hereditary disorder that causes the immune system to interfere with proper digestion of gluten in the small intestine. To be at risk for celiac disease, a person has to have a genetic predisposition and be exposed to gluten, which is part of most children's diets.
"The role of gluten intake in infants and the risk of later developing celiac disease has long been debated," said Dr. Carin Aronsson, a researcher at Lund University, in a press release. "Our study provides convincing evidence that the amount of gluten ingested at an early age plays a role in disease course, particularly in children with genetic risk of developing celiac disease."
The researchers did a case-control study on 436 pairs of Swedish children, selected from a database of 2,525 children genetically at-risk for the disease, matching them for sex, birth year, and HLA genotype.
The children were screened annually for celiac disease, with internal biopsies taken to confirm the disease in children who tested positive, with researchers calculating gluten consumption at 9, 12, 18, and 24 months old to determine their exposure.
Researchers found children predisposed to the disease were at twice the risk for it if they'd been exposed to gluten before age 2, as opposed to those not exposed.
"This finding offers insight into why some, but not all, children at genetic risk develop celiac disease," Aronsson said.
The study is published in the journal of Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.