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Infant's Early Diet Doesn't Change Celiac Disease Risk

Breastfeeding, waiting to introduce foods with gluten doesn't prevent autoimmune disorder

THURSDAY, Oct. 2, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A newborn's risk of developing celiac disease isn't reduced by breastfeeding. Nor will delaying the introduction of gluten to an infant's diet help prevent celiac disease. These are the conclusions from a pair of new studies published in the Oct. 2 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The first study involved 707 Italian infants with family history of celiac disease. The children were randomly assigned to two groups, one in which children began eating foods with gluten at 6 months and another where they waited until their first birthday before eating gluten. Researchers then followed the children for five years. Postponing the introduction of gluten had no effect on a child's long-term risk of developing celiac disease, although it did delay the onset of celiac disease. Breastfeeding did not affect the development of celiac disease either way. The study also found that children who had certain genes that influence the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) system were twice as likely to develop celiac disease than children with normal-risk HLA genes.

The second study involved 944 children also at high risk for celiac disease, about half of whom received gluten in their daily diet from 16 weeks to 24 weeks of age. The researchers involved in this study also concluded that the introduction of small quantities of gluten did not reduce risk of celiac disease.

The new findings put to rest hopes that a child could avoid celiac disease if mothers breastfeed their babies and introduce gluten between 4 and 6 months of age, Alessio Fasano, M.D., Ph.D., coauthor of one of the studies and director of the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at MassGeneral Hospital for Children in Boston, told HealthDay. "Contrary to our strong belief, breastfeeding does not help to prevent celiac disease at all," Fasano said. "We're not saying breastfeeding is useless. It can definitely have benefits for other reasons, but not for preventing celiac disease."

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