May 17, 2005 -- Infants who are introduced to cereals between the ages of 4
months and 6 months may have a lower risk of developing celiac disease than those who
start eating cereal earlier or later, according to new research.
Celiac disease is a condition in which the small intestine becomes inflamed
and damaged after eating foods containing gluten, a type of protein found in
grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. The disease, which causes malabsorption
of nutrients, usually develops in early childhood, and treatment requires
following a strict gluten-free diet.
In the study, researchers found that infants at risk for the disease who
were introduced to gluten-containing cereals in the first three months of life
were five times more likely to develop celiac disease as children compared with
those who started cereals between the ages of 4 months and 6 months.
The results appear in the May 18 issue of The Journal of the American
Although the exact cause of celiac disease is unknown, children who have a
close relative with the condition or certain genetic markers recognized by the
immune system and associated with the disease have a higher risk of developing
the disease. These genetic markers are also associated with a higher risk of
developing type 1 diabetes, which means
people with type 1 diabetes and their relatives are
also at increased risk.
Even so, researchers say few people with these genetic variations actually
develop celiac disease and other factors must also play a role in determining a
Is Timing the Key?
In the study, researchers looked at whether the timing of when a high-risk
was first exposed to gluten, such as cereal, affected their risk of developing
Researchers followed more than 1,500 children at risk for celiac disease for
an average of about five years. They tested the children for celiac disease
antibodies as a marker of their future risk of the disease. Antibodies are
proteins created by the immune system that help fight infection and are
involved in inflammation.