Individuals with Celiac disease suffer from an autoimmunity which occurs when they eat foods containing gluten; the small intestine suffers damage from the triggered immunity. New studies reveal celiac and the gluten myth.

It was previously believed that breast feeding and controlling the timing a baby ingests gluten could prevent the disease in those who are at the highest risk related to family history. Two studies have revealed the disappointing news that this is false.

Dr. Alessio Fasano, director of the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital said that there is no ‘recipe’ for prevention of the disease at present. It was previously believed that sensitizing a baby to gluten and delaying its beginning until the child is one-year-old could help prevent the disease in those most at risk. Dr. Fasano makes the point that breast feeding and delaying the feeding of solid food until the baby is four to five months of age is still suggested.

This is sad news for parents whose children have a ‘first-degree’ relative with the disease. The chances of the baby contracting the disease remains one in ten. Celiac causes cramping, diarrhea and other symptoms in the lower bowel area.

One of the studies involved more than 700 babies. It was carried out in Italy. Foods containing gluten were given to infants at six months of age and others at one year. Two years later the early age group had symptoms of the disease; at five years of age both groups had similar signs of having celiac. At the age of ten those children who had two copies of the inherited gene had a 40 times greater risk of contracting celiac than those of the general population.

The second study contained 944 children across the European continent. The protocol was to give small amounts of gluten or a placebo to infants from four to six months of age. Five percent of both groups contracted celiac by age three.

The concern by the scientific community that these studies countermanded what was previously believed to be a measure helping to prevent the disease is enhanced by the fact that celiac disease is on the rise. It is now four to five times more common than it was 50 years ago.

The final result is that researchers have no conclusive idea why the disease is more prevalent now than in the past. Children who carry the genetic footprint for celiac continue to have a greater possibility of contracting the disease. Their best guess is that ‘other environmental factors’ are contributing to the increasing numbers.

James Turnage