Introducing gluten to children early in life could help prevent celiac disease, study finds

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Researchers say that waiting too long could have adverse effects

A new study conducted by researchers from King’s College London has found that introducing infants to gluten in the early months of life could prevent celiac disease. Their work revealed that infants who were given gluten, alongside breast milk, at four months old were less likely to develop celiac disease than those who were given gluten later in infancy. 

“This is the first study that provides evidence that early introduction of significant amounts of wheat into a baby’s diet before six months of age may prevent the development of celiac disease,” said researcher Gideon Lack. “This strategy may also have implications for other autoimmune diseases such as Type 1 diabetes.” 

Preventing celiac disease

The researchers analyzed results from over 1,000 infants who participated in the Enquiring About Tolerance (EAT) study. One group was introduced to gluten at four months old by receiving four milligrams of wheat protein each week, in addition to breast milk. Another group was not exposed to gluten and stuck to just breast milk until they were six months old. 

When the children reached three years old, they were tested for the antibodies associated with celiac disease. The researchers said it was clear that an earlier introduction to gluten was beneficial in preventing gluten intolerance. None of the nearly 490 children who were given gluten early developed celiac disease. Conversely, 1.4 percent of the 516 children who weren’t given gluten early developed celiac disease by age three. 

Though the researchers want to do more work in this area, these findings are important for consumers to consider. There are no treatments or interventions associated with celiac disease, and those with the condition generally must cut out all gluten from their diets. However, the findings show that consumers could potentially protect their young ones from ever developing celiac disease just by introducing them to gluten earlier. 

“Early introduction of gluten and its role in the prevention of celiac disease should be explored further, using the results of the EAT Study as the basis for larger clinical trials to definitively answer this question,” said researcher Dr. Kirsty Logan. 

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