Celiac Risk: It's Not About When Infants Start Eating Gluten

Celiac disease risk may not be affected by the age when children first eat gluten


Bring on the bread. Eating gluten at a young age may not raise kids' risk of celiac disease.

A new study found that the age at which children first began to eat gluten-containing foods like bread may not affect whether they develop celiac disease as children. Children who had a blood test with high levels of tTGA — an antibody to gluten — were considered to have a higher risk of celiac disease.

In this study, the most significant risk factors for developing celiac disease were a family history of the disease and being female.

Lead study author Daniel Agardh, MD, PhD, of Lund University in Sweden, and colleagues wrote that the “time to first introduction of gluten is not an independent risk factor for developing celiac disease by 5 years of age, neither on an overall level nor on a country level comparison."

Dr. Agardh and team used data from a larger study called TEDDY — The Environmental Determinants of Diabetes in the Young. More than 42,000 newborn infants in Finland, Germany, Sweden and the US were screened for genetic factors called genotypes that indicated they were at high risk for celiac disease.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Celiac disease — formerly called sprue — is an autoimmune disorder in which antibodies to gluten cause damage to structures in the intestine called the villi. Because nutrients are absorbed through the villi, this damage can result in weight loss and malnutrition.

Dr. Agardh and team noted that children might be introduced to gluten as early as 21 weeks in Sweden or as late as 30 weeks in the US. Some children in this study began to eat gluten as early as 17 weeks.

Over the course of five years, 12 percent of the children developed high tTGA levels. Five percent were diagnosed with celiac disease.

These researchers found that, in all the countries studied, the age at which children first ate gluten did not appear to affect whether they developed celiac disease.

This study was published Jan. 19 in the journal Pediatrics.

Grants from National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and others funded this research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.