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Too much gluten a disease risk

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High consumption of gluten is emerging as a risk factor in the development of coeliac disease.

While much attention to now has been focused on when gluten in introduced into a child’s diet, a Swedish study suggests researchers should instead turn their attention to how much gluten they eat.

Sweden is considered a high-risk country for the development of coeliac disease – a gluten intolerance for which there is no known cure. The only effective treatment is to follow a gluten-free diet.

Lund University researcher Carin Andren Aronsson was keen to investigate why such gluten intolerance occurs, and examined the records of 8700 children across four countries (Sweden, Finland, Germany and the United States) who are part of The Environmental Determinants of Diabetes in the Young project.

“Our findings indicate that the amount of gluten triggers the disease,” Ms Aronsson reported, adding that differences in dietary habits between children from different countries should also be examined.

She found that Swedish children up to two years of age with a high gluten intake of more than five grams a day had twice the risk of developing coeliac disease compared with those who ate less.

Further, she discovered that Swedish children had a higher risk of developing the auto-immunity that gives rise to coeliac disease than children in other countries studied, including Finland, Germany and the United States.

But the researcher dismissed the idea that breast feeding, frequently a point of speculation, had a role to play.

“There was no apparent connection between the duration of the period of breast feeding and the risk of developing coeliac disease,” Ms Aronsson said.

She were equally unequivocal that when gluten was introduced into a child’s diet was not significant.

“The timing alone of the introduction of gluten in the diet is not an independent risk factor for subsequent development of gluten intolerance,” she said.

Ms Aronsson said she intended to expand her study to include children from more countries, with data retrieved over a longer time span.

Adrian Rollins