Much to my grandmother’s chagrin, I’m nowhere close to having children.

cookie sandwiches, the new baby food?

Much to my chagrin, this new study on the prevention of celiac disease won’t be finished before my prime child-bearing years are over.

Study to prevent celiac disease, you ask? Indeed. A new Dutch study is taking a look at the so-called “window of opportunity,” in which it might (might might might) be possible to keep celiac disease from taking hold in an infant.

Over the years experts have waffled back and forth on whether or not it’s prudent to feed infants gluten. Is it better to expose their systems to the potential toxin, so that they can build a resistance to it? Or is it better to shield them until their digestive and immune systems are stronger?

One thing that is certain: the rate of celiac disease is on the rise, and increased diagnosis / heightened awareness doesn’t explain all the new cases. It isn’t just that we’re better at finding celiac; it’s also more common now than it was 20 years ago. This points to some sort of trigger — and if we can find the trigger, we can better avoid it (at least, theoretically).

The Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands has launched a study that should help do just that. The study has two parts:

  1. Two groups of Swedish children will be followed until age 12. One group was born when prevailing advice involved sheltering infants from gluten. The other was born more recently, when introducing gluten into the diets of 4-6 month-olds was encouraged.
  2. 1,000 infants who each have a first-degree relative with celiac disease will be followed. Those whose genomes show indicators of potential celiac disease will be split into two groups, each receiving a different amount of gluten in their daily diets from 4-6 months. All the infants will be tracked for indications of celiac disease / for antibodies, and their mothers’ breastmilk will be tracked for gluten.

This is really promising research, and I’m looking forward to seeing the answers 12 years from now. In the meantime, I’m curious: those of you who have small children, did you purposefully expose them to or shelter them from gluten when they were babies? Do you think it made a difference?