A new study has found that babies who are not breastfed or who stop breastfeeding early are not more likely to develop coeliac disease, contrary to one of the main theories about why children become gluten intolerant.
The Teddy project, a joint venture between universities in Sweden, Finland, Germany and the US, studied the development of nearly 9,000 children in the participating countries, and concluded that starting to eat food containing gluten ‘too early’ is also not a trigger for contracting the disease.
Instead, it is the amount introduced to children's diets that matters, lead researcher Carin Andrén Aronsson of Lund University found, with large amounts being the biggest risk factor.
“Our findings indicate that the amount of gluten triggers the disease,” Aronsson said. “The timing of the introduction of gluten, on the other hand, does not seem to be of great significance.”
It is still unknown why coeliac disease occurs, but research to date has focused on early dietary habits and factors such as breast-feeding and geographical origin to shed light on the condition. Currently, the only effective treatment for coeliac disease is to adhere to a gluten-free diet.
Aronsson found that children who had a daily intake of more than five grams of gluten before the age of two had double the risk of developing coeliac disease compared to other children.
The study is going to be expanded to several other countries, and the children will be monitored for another three years.
Aronsson said the research will also include investigations into whether probiotics and beneficial bacteria can help alleviate the effects of coeliac disease.
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