I’ve been attending a few professional updates recently and I need to pass on a few changes to infant nutrition and the guidelines for introducing babies onto solid food.
For a starter here’s the latest research on coeliac disease and when we should introduce gluten. It has some interesting findings and implications for the future health of our children.
Gluten and intolerance
Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barley and rye and gives the sticky elastic texture to bread dough. An intolerance to gluten is not the same as coeliac disease. We often confuse the two and so a lot of people avoid gluten thinking it will solve their digestion issues.
Coeliac disease is an abnormal reaction to gluten involving the immune system and leading to damage of the small intestine. Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease only diagnosed by biopsy of the gut. Blood tests can be indicative but are not truly diagnostic.
There are current theories that link coeliac disease in children to mothers avoiding gluten and wheat in their diets antenatally. Current stats show that girl babies have double the rates of coeliac disease whereas boys have double the rates of tree and peanut allergy to girls.
Since 2001 when the WHO brought in new guidelines that all infants should be exclusively breastfed until 6 months old there was a large increase in coeliac disease. As a health professional I noticed a large increase in food allergy and atopic disease when these guidelines were introduced. This directly compared to what i’d noticed in the Manchester UK population when solids were regularly introduced to babies at 2-3 months of age (the recommended age was 4 months). In the UK I saw hardly any atopic disease such as eczema and never saw a case of food allergy or intolerance.
In 2008, the European Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition published a “position paper” that said, in part, “It is prudent to avoid both early (before 4 months) and late (7 months) introduction of gluten, and to introduce gluten gradually while the infant is still breast-fed, inasmuch as this may reduce the risk of coeliac disease, type 1 diabetes mellitus, and wheat allergy.”
One study, published in 2005 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, was conducted in babies who had genes that are common in coeliac disease patients. In this study, the babies who ate gluten before four months of age had a five-times-higher risk of developing coeliac disease in childhood compared with babies who started on gluten between four and six months. Babies who first ate gluten at age seven months or older also had a higher risk compared with babies introduced to gluten between four and six months, but the increase in risk was small.
Gluten is passed on in breastmilk. Several studies have shown that the risk of celiac disease is lowered when the baby is still being breastfed when gluten is first started, and the risk is lowered even more if breastfeeding continues past that time.
Start your baby on gluten – wheat, rye, barley and oats at 4-7 months and you may be preventing future allergies, diabetes and other health issues.
I thought these findings deserved a share and hopefully we can help our future population have a reduction in coeliac disease as well as food allergies. It really is food for thought.