Researchers posit introducing gluten at specific points of time during infancy development might be the key to celiac disease prevention. A few recent studies tested the hypothesis on an infant population who were genetically at risk for developing the disease.1
For those unfamiliar, celiac disease is (very simply) defined as an autoimmune disorder, which is caused by a reaction to gliadin.2 Gliadin is a prolamine protein, which is found in wheat.3 Those with celiac disease are usually also sensitive to other proteins, which are chemically similar in structure.4, 5
Surprisingly, the researchers’ hypothesis was disproved.6 The studies exhibited that children developed the disease equally, regardless of the time frame of gluten introduction. Perhaps most surprisingly, breastfeeding didn’t seem to provide any protective benefits either, which is seemingly contradictory to earlier scientific findings.7
Children with chronic illnesses are known to be more predisposed to emotional and behavioral problems.8 The above chart (MASC Tscore Mean) shows the increased rate of emotional and behavioral problems in children with celiac disease.9 Since the topic of gluten, celiac disease and children is a somewhat sensitive one, it is important for us to look at the likely cause of the disease.10 Causative, not correlative, mechanisms and reasons are, at the end of the day, what’s really important about scientific findings.11 What we seem to have learned from these very well conducted studies, is that celiac disease may be caused almost entirely by genetics.12
Almost all people with celiac disease have one of 2 genes, DQ2 or DQ8.13 The above table shows the worldwide frequency and distribution of the genes.14 However, interestingly, about 33% of the population also has one of these genes – but they never develop the disease.15 This leads researchers to think that perhaps there are lifestyle and/or epigenetic factors at play, as well.16
One hypothesis is that changes may occur, in gut bacteria, before the disease develops.17 This means that things such as antibiotics, refined sugar, artificial colors, gluten and other artificial food elements may be causing detrimental changes in the microbiome.18 This would also mean that intervening with a probiotic might be one possible “fix.”19, 20 Above, we can see how changes in microbiota, sometimes brought upon by diet, affect many changes and processes in the body.21, 22
Hypothetically, it would make sense that the recent rise in celiac disease could be due to our massive shift in diet.23 We have changed our diet, almost totally and completely, since the 1970s.24, 25 Obviously, our genome has not really had much time to adapt to these changes.26
Another interesting factor that has also changed since the 1970s is that children are exposed to fewer germs – and parents are much more vigilant about cleanliness.27 This theory of disease is nicknamed the “hygiene hypothesis.”28 With decreased exposure to harmful environmental elements, which our body then learns to defend itself against, children’s immune systems may be turning inward – attacking the body’s own tissue, instead.29, 30
Though the cause of celiac disease may be genetic, the only cure, as has long been known, is a gluten-free diet.31 On the diet, the small intestinal mucosal injury heals and gluten-induced symptoms and signs disappear.32 If you have children, the best course of action is a screening, to see if they may be at risk for celiac disease.33 This goes doubly if any family members have the disease, as the genetic risk factor makes the likelihood increase.34
However, regardless of your children’s potential risk for developing celiac disease, it is not a good idea to be eat gluten.35, 36 There are many downsides to gluten, and it has many negative effects on the body and mind.37, 38, 39, 40 In fact, one study showed that removing gluten from the diet reduced adiposity, inflammation and insulin resistance.41
Other studies have shown that in some individuals, gluten sensitivity was shown to manifest solely with neurological dysfunction, though this point is somewhat debatable.42, 43, 44 What is interesting, however we previously detailed, is that schizophrenics among others with mental disorders, seem to respond positively to the removal of gluten from the diet.45
As should be obvious by now, you can see the benefits in removing gluten and gluten-like compounds from your children’s diet. Therefore, a Paleo Diet, which is rich in nutrients and avoids problematic proteins like gluten, is the best course of action to take – for both children and adults. You will likely see a decrease in your blood pressure, improve your glucose tolerance and your lipid profile.46 These are all healthy, positive changes – whether you’re young or old.
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