Research finds breast-feeding halves the risk of children developing coeliac disease

Added on 14 Nov, 2005 . There are .

Researchers have found that breast-feeding babies halves the risk of children developing an intolerance to foods containing gluten.

Gluten intolerance (coeliac/celiac disease) is estimated to affect 1% of the UK population and almost 1% of the US population. While genes play an important part in determining if someone will develop gluten intolerance, environmental factors early in life are also thought to prime a body's immune system to react to gluten later in life.

Researchers from Central Manchester Children's University Hospital, UK reviewed six studies on breast-feeding and the risk of coeliac disease, the studies involved more than 900 children with coeliac disease and 3,500 healthy children. They found that the longer a child was breast-fed the lower the risk of the child presenting with gluten intolerance.

Breast-fed babies had a 52% reduction to their risk of developing coeliac disease when they were first introduced to gluten containing foods, compared to non breast-fed babies.

The researchers have suggested that possibly this reduction is simply because a child is exposed to less gluten during weaning if breast-fed. Although breast-feeding may also cut the number of stomach infections and hence reduce weakening of the bowel lining.

Although it currently remains unclear exactly how breast-feeding protects a child against coeliac disease the researchers wrote in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, "...Breast feeding during the introduction of dietary gluten and increased duration of breast feeding were associated with decreased risk of developing coeliac disease. It is, however, not clear from the primary studies whether breast feeding delays the onset of symptoms or provides a permanent protection against the disease."