CHICAGO (Reuters) – There may be a brief window when infants in danger of developing a gluten intolerance can be fed wheat or other grains to improve their chances of avoiding the disorder, a study said on Tuesday.
Researchers at the University of Colorado at Denver said the finding backs current recommendations which call for the introduction of cereals between four and six months, although more research is needed to determine if there is any value in delaying such foods beyond six months.
In a report in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association, they reported that infants fed cereal made from wheat, rye or barley at four to six months had a lower risk of developing a gluten intolerance later in life than children who were fed grains before four or after six months.
“This suggests a window of exposure to gluten outside of which one may increase the celiac disease autoimmunity risk in susceptible children,” the study said.
The largely genetic intolerance to gluten, called celiac disease, occurs when the immune system becomes sensitized to gluten, reacting as it would to an infection and preventing the absorption of nutrients in the intestines. Children and their parents have to carefully monitor food intake to avoid weight loss, diarrhea and other problems.
But only a small percentage of the population with the genetic propensity for the disease actually develops it, suggesting that other factors are involved.
“We found that children who were exposed to gluten in the first three months of life had a five-fold increased risk … compared to children who weren’t exposed until 4 to 6 months of age,” said Jill Norris, the report’s chief author.
Children not exposed to gluten until the seventh month or later had a “marginally increased risk” of the disease compared to those in the four-to-six month group, she added.
“It’s been thought that delaying the introduction of gluten in the infant diet may have a beneficial effect (for) preventing celiac disease. However, our study suggests that’s not the case,” she added.
The study was based on 1,560 children at risk for celiac disease who were followed for an average of 4.8 years each between 1994 and 2004. Of the group, 51 developed the autoimmunity for the disease.
Tue May 17, 2005 04:59 PM ET