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Children's Health

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Parents' Feeding Choices & Baby's Celiac Risk

Study links late introduction of gluten, breast-feeding beyond 1 year to development of the digestive disorder


At least one expert remains unconvinced that the timing of gluten introduction or prolonged breast-feeding plays a role in the development of celiac disease.

"If you have the genetic makeup for celiac disease and you are introduced to gluten at any time, you are going to get the disease," said Dr. William Muinos, co-director of pediatric gastroenterology at Miami Children's Hospital in Florida.

"That's what we have to focus on -- the genetic makeup of these patients and not whether they get introduced to gluten early or late, or if breast-feeding, that's not the issue," Muinos added.

About one in 133 Americans has celiac disease, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. It is much more common among children who have a parent or sibling with the disease. Besides foods, gluten is found in many everyday products such as vitamins and supplements, medicines, lip balm and the glue on stamps and envelopes.

For the study, Stordal's team collected data on 107,000 children in the Norwegian Patient Register. The introduction of gluten was reported during the infant's first 6 months of life and breast-feeding was reported during the first 18 months.

Among the nearly 82,200 children in the final analysis, 324 developed celiac disease. In 8 percent of those cases, infants started eating foods with gluten before or at 4 months of age. In 45 percent of cases, gluten was introduced between 5 and 6 months of age, whereas nearly 47 percent of those who developed celiac disease first started eating foods with gluten after 6 months.

The risk for celiac disease was increased 27 percent when gluten was introduced late, the researchers noted.

And breast-feeding after a year was associated with a 49 percent increase in the risk for celiac disease, the study authors reported.

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