Babies fed on grains too early in life could be more at risk of developing coeliac disease
University of Colorado scientists have produced research showing that delaying the introduction of cereal based foods into a child's diet could help avoid them developing coeliac disease or other gut disorders later in life.
The research, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, has found that if babies were not fed grains until the age 4-6 months they had a lower chance of developing coeliac disease.
They also found that exposure to gluten, the protein found in wheat, during the first three months of their life increased the risk of developing coeliac disease by five times.
Nicky Mendoza, a dietician for Coeliac UK, said: "Current guidelines suggest not weaning before six months of age, so, for most children, gluten should not be introduced before this". "Children that are weaned before this age should be given gluten-free foods until they reach six months." She also went on to say that children with a parent or other first degree relative with coeliac disease had a one in 10 chance of developing the intolerance themselves.
Children not exposed until they were older than 7 months were also more likely to develop coeliac disease than infants exposed between the optimum window of 4-6 months.
The researchers suggested a possible explanation for the safe window of gluten exposure was that for gluten to start an allergic reaction it has to be recognised by the body's immune cells, and for this to happen it has to cross the gut barrier. During the first 3 months of life this gut barrier is not as complete as at older ages, which means that it allows gliadin (the protein which is a part of the wheat gluten) to pass through the gut even if fed in minute amounts.
Conversely, when wheat products are introduced to a child older than seven months, it tends to be in larger portion sizes, thus increasing the amount of gluten available to cross the gut.
The children studied were all from families with a strong history of coeliac disease, and the researchers have said their findings might not apply to all children. They recommended that researchers look at many more children with coeliac disease to confirm whether their findings were correct.