As counter intuitive as it seems, feeding an infant gluten may decrease their chances of developing celiac disease. There is no certain proof, but a Swedish study led by Anneli Ivarsson titled “Breast-Feeding Protects Against Celiac Disease 1,2,3″ is quite compelling.
Magic happens somewhere between 4-6 months in breastfed babies that are introduced to gluten. This study looked at an infants ability to develop a tolerance of sorts to the proteins found in certain grains.
“…we showed that breast-feeding had an independent protective effect against celiac disease if the infants were breast-fed at the time when gluten-containing foods were introduced. This effect was even more pronounced in infants who continued to be breast-fed also beyond the time of gluten introduction.” ~ According to Ivarsson in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
The study examines two groups of Swedish children. The first group was born in 1993 during a four-fold increase in celiac disease. The others were born in 1997 when the celiac diagnostic rate decreased. Children born in the latter time frame had an astonishing 25% decrease in celiac diagnoses. Teachings on infant feeding changed over this period and the latter group reflects gluten added at 4 months of age rather than 6 months as the 1993 group was raised.
Breastfeeding + Gluten introduced at 4 months old = Decreased Celiac Disease
In Sweden the study coincides infant feeding habits with rates of celiac disease. According to the study “Swedish infant-feeding practices have shifted over time from a favorable to an unfavorable pattern and back to a favorable pattern… about one-half of the cases during the epidemic might have been spared celiac disease if the favorable dietary pattern had been followed.”
Thus, it seems likely that the dietary patterns of infants, in addition to the mere presence of gluten in the diet, interact with an individual’s genetics, resulting in an immunologic process that may or may not result in the small-intestinal celiac lesion.
Age is important to note in this particular study. They were looking at rates of celiac disease diagnosis in children less than the age of 2. What does this mean for older children? The study sites a probable reduction in the rates of celiac disease for the remainder of childhood years. They go on to state that further studies of lifetime risk will need to carried out.