New Theories on Why Celiac Disease is on the Rise

It’s generally accepted as fact that the increasing global diagnoses of celiac disease are not solely due to better doctor awareness; there are also more people with an inability to safely ingest gluten than ever before.

Why are rates of celiac disease increasing? Well, there many theories that explain some or all of the increase – and some with more scientific rigor than others.


A new study out of Sweden takes a look at one such theory, that of infections in early childhood, with interesting results. Published in BMC Pediatrics, the study examined 954 children, including 373 who were diagnosed with celiac disease before they were two years old.

All families were requested to complete a questionnaire about the child’s general health and diet, as well as characteristics of the family during the child’s early years. No mention of celiac disease was made in the questionnaire; once they had the data scientists paired each celiac child’s questionnaire with one or two children with similar answers.

Researchers found that a few things didn’t much matter; neither the presence or absence of siblings, nor the age at gluten introduction was statistically significant. Whether or not the infants had been treated with antibiotics within the first six months of life also was not significant.

However, the patients with celiac disease were 67% female, were more likely to be from families of lower socioeconomic status, and less likely to have been breastfed while gluten was introduced to their diets. Introducing large amounts of gluten to their diet also increased their risk of celiac disease.

Perhaps most interestingly, having three or more infectious episodes within the first six months led to increased risk, even when other variables were controlled for. Babies who had multiple infections or fevers and were introduced to large amounts of gluten after being weaned off of breast milk had the highest likelihood of celiac disease.

The researchers speculate that weaning a child in the winter, when that child is more likely to catch a bug of some sort, could lead to increased risk of celiac. However, they also mention that it is unknown whether there is causation or whether there is an underlying feature that makes infants who are susceptible to infection also susceptible to gluten intolerance.

If you have a child with celiac disease, how does your data compare? Was the child being breastfed at the time of gluten introduction? Did the child have several infections as an infant?

One thought on “New Theories on Why Celiac Disease is on the Rise”

  1. First child now 53 years old. Diagnosed with Celiac Sprue through Dr. Spock’s book very early. Breastfed for 6 months, but also introduced cereal and jared baby food around 2 months old. Improved dramatically when placed on wheat free diet. Went back to normal eating at age 4-5, since it was beleived that children outgrew the disease which was thought to be an immaturity of the bowel. Fared well until early adulthood and developed an “environmental illness” in her 30’s. Condition deteriorated over time. Finally went on GF diet and is now recovering.
    Father diagnosed at age 56. Two other of our children on GF diet. One diagnosed and other tested negative but feels better on diet.

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