People often comment that it seems like there’s more celiac disease out there today than there was 10 or 20 or 50 years ago — that it isn’t just better awareness, but that it seems like there are actually more cases to be diagnosed. And, regardless of whether I agree, disagree, or demur, inevitably, their next comment is more of a question: why do you think that is?

To be perfectly frank, I have no idea. But thanks to a new study out of Sweden, we know at least one thing is not to blame: vaccines.

The Swedish study was prompted in large part by a celiac “epidemic” between 1984 and 1996; according to Reuters, there was a four-fold increase in the normal rate of celiac disease in younger children during this time. No one is sure why the epidemic started, or why it ended, but some people theorized that vaccines could play a role. After all, they do involve the immune system — just like celiac disease does.

However, as the journal Pediatrics reports, this theory has been disproven. Not only did changes in Sweden’s vaccination programs have no correlation with the increase in celiac disease, the disease saw a decline when a vaccination against whooping cough was introduced.

The study observed data from 392 celiac babies and 623 non-celiac babies of the same age and from the same area of Sweden. No match was found between the vaccine program’s changes or the vaccines which had been given to which children and the rise in celiac diagnosis.

The take-away, then, is clear: childhood vaccinations do not trigger celiac disease. But what does? Certainly it’s unlikely that the 12-year spike was simply a statistical fluke.

One possible cause could be infant nutrition, the Reuters article goes on to explain. There have been a handful of studies focusing on when to introduce wheat to children (some of which we’ve written about here), with somewhat inconclusive results. However, the leads on this study think it’s a question to be asked again. In Sweden, presumably during times that coordinate with the epidemic, a “follow-on” formula was in vogue amongst new parents. The formula was designed to transition children from formula to solid food, and contained a large amount of wheat.

According to Dr. Joseph A. Murray, director of the Mayo Clinic’s  celiac disease program, added that a similar rise in celiac cases was observed in the UK in the 1960s and 1970s during a time when parents were introducing wheat cereal to children at a young age. The cases declined after a public health campaign urged parents to wait until their children was 5-6 months old to introduce wheat.

What do you think? If you have (or are having) a child, when are you planning to introduce them to grains? Will you introduce them to wheat at all?