Are Celiac Rates Affected By When We Begin Eating Gluten?

By Laura (The Gluten-Free Traveller)

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Many new parents have concerns about when they should begin giving their child gluten, especially if they themselves have issues with the protein.

Some research suggests that feeding your baby gluten from the age of four months could help lessen the chance of them going on to develop celiac disease.

In the mid-1980s Sweden began reporting a great increase in babies and toddlers with celiac disease. From 1984-1996 cases of celiac disease in children under two quadrupled but after 1996, occurrences decreased again.

Two years prior to the epidemic, Swedish authorities and nutritionists revised their recommendations for infant feeding in an attempt to prevent celiac disease.

Previous advice suggested giving babies a little gluten-containing food from the age of four months, whereas the new guidelines recommended waiting until the child reached six months. Surprisingly the number of celiac disease cases started to grow.

Anna Myléus and her colleagues of the University of Umeå, Sweden, studied these and other issues linked to the Swedish epidemic. They concluded that these changes regarding when gluten was introduced really did cause an increase in cases of celiac disease and that it may be possible to guard against the disease by introducing gluten in the proper way and at the right time.

Back in 1982 parents were urged to hold back on gluten until their babies were at least six months. At the same time many baby food manufacturers increased the amounts of gluten-containing flour in their products.

As a result, babies were coming into contact with gluten later but once they did they were consuming larger amounts. A sudden introduction to gluten appears to increase the risk of developing celiac disease, according to Myléus.

Breastfeeding also appears to be an important factor. Babies who had been weaned when they were first introduced to gluten were more susceptible to celiac disease.

Myléus and her colleagues advise parents to carefully introduce gluten-containing foods from the age of four months, preferably whilst the baby is also being breastfed.

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