How and When to Introduce Gluten to Infants to Reduce the Risk of Celiac Disease

Baby with SpoonIn the Winter 2010 edition of Impact ( a publication of the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center ) there is an excellent article about when to introduce gluten to infants in order to reduce the chances that they might develop Celiac Disease.

Dr. Stefano Guandalini, MD details in the article the current research-based theory on how to discourage the development of Celiac disease in infants.  There were a some that I knew already, and some that were news to me!

  • Breast Feed, and feed until (and ideally after) gluten is introduced to the diet.  As if you didn’t have enough reason to breast feed already (best chance of development, higher IQ, better immune system, weight loss for mother, free milk, bonding with your child, etc) now you have yet another reason – not only does it strengthen the immune system against infectious disease, it also appears to “tune in” the immune system to prevent auto-immune conditions like Celiac Disease.
  • Time the introduction of gluten. It appears that the best time to introduce is between 4-6 months, according to Dr. Guandalini.  However, the “end date” of that range is less certain than the “start date”, as there are studies showing that gluten introduction too early is dangerous, but there aren’t conclusive studies determining if delaying beyond 6 months is helpful or harmful.
  • The amount of gluten matters. Dr. Guandalini suggests that a maximum one to two teaspoons of cereal be given per day until the end of the first year of life.  This was a new one for me; I hadn’t heard it before.  It does seem logical based on the knowledge we are now getting about food allergies or intolerances in general: too much of a food can make it seem like an invader to the body, triggering an immune reaction.  However, I would suggest that maybe it is appropriate to add to this advice that it might be good not to give an infant gluten every day.  It seems like more and more research is indicating that if the body is exposed to a food every single day, it is more likely that an intolerance or allergy will develop.  Therefore, it is probably good not to give your child gluten containing food (even in a small amount) on a daily basis, but rather rotate foods so that they don’t constantly have gluten (or any other type of food) sitting in their gut every single day.

He does close the article with an encouraging point; even children of parents with Celiac Disease are 90% likely not to develop the disease.  Following these feeding guidelines should help improve this number even more.

I highly encourage you to read the entire article in the Winter 2010 edition of Impact.

(photo: LizaWasHere)

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