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Composition of breast milk not affected by mother's celiac disease

June 25, 2021

Study shows breast milk similar between mothers with and without celiac disease

By Amy Ratner, Director Scientific Affairs

The breast milk of new mothers with celiac disease who are on the gluten-free diet is similar to the breast milk of new mothers who don’t have celiac disease, a new study has found.

The similarities in the small molecules, called metabolites, that make up the composition of breast milk suggest the breast milk is functionally comparable between the two groups, according to researchers from the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at Mass General Hospital. They noted that this indicates the initial development of the intestinal gut microbiome may not be significantly affected by a mother having celiac disease if she is on a gluten-free diet.

Bacteria and viruses

The study did find differences in the amount of several bacterial strains in the breast milk of the mothers with celiac disease compared to mothers who don’t have celiac disease. Three bacterial strains were more abundant in the breast milk from the mothers with celiac disease.  Additionally, four strains of bacteria and two strains of virus were higher in breast milk from mothers without celiac disease.

The differences may represent variations in maternal health and diet between the two groups. Researchers called for additional studies to be done.

The study results, presented recently at Digestive Disease Week, are part of the larger Celiac Disease Genomic, Environmental Microbiome and Metabolome (GEMM) research. GEMM is a prospective, observational and multi-center study of the genetic makeup, environmental conditions, and gut microbiome of participating babies and children. The goal of the study is to identify how these factors contribute to disease development so that, in the future, scientists may be able to predict who will develop celiac disease before it happens and then prevent it.

Breast milk and the microbiome

Mounting evidence supports the gut microbiota as a potential trigger for developing celiac disease, the study says, noting that nutrition strongly affects the initial characteristics of an infant’s intestinal microbiome. “As breast milk serves as the major nutritional source for many infants, it is essential to examine how variations in breast milk composition may shape the gut microbiota,” the authors wrote. While multiple studies of the microbiome in healthy mothers have been done, only a few have evaluated mothers with celiac disease, they added.

The study was based on breast milk samples collected between 7 and 14 days after a child was born from 20 mothers with celiac disease on a gluten-free diet and 16 mothers without celiac disease. The type of analysis done allowed researchers to identify strains of bacteria, viruses and fungi, as well as the function of the microbiome.

Study limitations included the small sample size and the fact that results provided only a single snapshot at one point in time. Future investigations will cover a longer period and compare the stool samples of children in the GEMM study whose mothers have celiac disease and children whose mothers do not.



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