Early introduction of wheat before 6 months of age into an infant’s diet may prevent coeliac disease
Coeliac disease is an auto-immune disease in which the body attacks the lining of its own gut when the person has consumed foods containing the gliadin protein of gluten, found in wheat, rye, barley and some oats. It occurs in around 1% of people of Northern European heritage.
Coeliac disease can lead to growth failure, poor absorption, diarrhoea, anaemia, irritability and also in the long term to certain types of bowel cancer, so can cause significant distress. A life-long gluten free diet is necessary for coeliac disease sufferers- this a mammoth task. Therefore prevention of coeliac disease would be first prize!
A study published in September 2020 in the well-respected journal “JAMA Pediatrics” by researchers from King’s College London, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, St George’s, University of London, and Benaroya Research Institute, Seattle, suggest the early introduction of high-dose gluten may be an effective prevention strategy for coeliac disease.
The “EAT” study (which stands for “Enquiring About Tolerance”) investigated the effects of giving regular gluten alongside breastfeeding, from the age of four months. Children in the active intervention group were given regular wheat protein (equivalent to a total of 2 Weetbix per week). The results were compared to children who avoided allergenic foods and consumed only breast milk until age six months as per UK government guidelines. Out of a total of 1004 children, 488 were in the early introduction group, and 516 in the avoidance group.
Of those in the early-introduction group, none were found to have evidence of coeliac disease at 3 years of age, versus 1.4% in the avoidance group.
This early introduction strategy is in line with the concept of early introduction of peanut as an allergy-prevention strategy.
Further research is needed to confirm these results, but for now it is an important step in the right direction in trying to curb allergic and food-related auto-immune diseases.
Publication: Kirsty Logan et al. Early Gluten Introduction and Celiac Disease in the EAT Study. JAMA Pediatrics, 2020