By Laura (The Gluten-Free Traveller)
Between 1984 and 1996, Sweden saw a huge rise in celiac disease amongst children under the age of two. On average it is thought that celiac disease affects around one percent of the population, but at this time Swedish children were being diagnosed with celiac disease at four times higher than the normal rate. This bizarre rise in babies and children being diagnosed ended just as suddenly as it had begun, not surprisingly leaving researchers to ask why this could have happened.
At first many wondered whether infant vaccines could be the culprit. As vaccines stimulate the immune system perhaps the vaccines were triggering an abnormal response to gluten. It was found, though, that there was no real link between the vaccinations and the risk of developing celiac disease. A number of factors showed no link including the fact that changes in Sweden’s vaccine program did not match up with the timing of the rise in celiac disease.
Could infant nutrition be a factor? Could the age at which children were first given gluten containing cereals be a factor?
Dr. Joseph A. Murray is the director of the celiac disease program at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. In 2009, he and his colleagues found that celiac disease may be four times more common in the US today than it was in the 1950s. Similar findings have been reported in Europe. Whilst the reasons for this increase are unclear, Murray thinks that factors related to gluten must be involved. Perhaps people are eating more gluten nowadays than they used to and in those of us with a genetic predisposition, this could result in an abnormal immune response.
It is thought that further research and understanding into what caused this bizarre and sudden increase in childhood celiac disease in Sweden and then a decade later, the just as sudden decline, could help with celiac prevention in general.