Gluten intolerance, or celiac disease, has massive implications on the diet and lifestyle of those who suffer from it. They must constantly be vigilant for traces of wheat in their diet and the long-term implications of the disease can often be alarming. A new study suggests that there is a simple way to cut down on a newborn's chances of developing this disorder -- breastfeeding.
Although gluten intolerance is regarded as a genetic disorder, a recent meta-study by researchers at Manchester University showed that there appear to be clear links between breastfeeding and reduced incident rates of the disease.
Celiac disease affects as many as 1 in 130 Canadians. The classic symptoms range from diarrhea to weight loss to malnutrition, but the disease is by no means easy to diagnose. Screening involves blood testing for antigliadin (AGA) and endomysium antibodies (EmA), or performing a biopsy on the affected part of the intestines.
Typically, the disease damages the villi in the intestines, and undiagnosed can lead to massively increased chances of gastrointestinal cancer. Therefore, it is extremely important that diagnosis happens early in the patient's life and that they adjust their diet accordingly.
Preventing celiac disease
Now researchers appear to have found an even better way of preventing the disorder. By examining the results of six large studies involving 900 children with celiac disease and 3,500 healthy children, The Archives of Disease in Childhood Study noted that breastfeeding significantly reduced the chances of celiac disease in a child and the longer breastfeeding took place, the less prevalent the risk. The incidence rate of the disease was cut as much as 52 per cent in those infants who were breastfed, as opposed to those who were not.
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Although the study is not comprehensive enough to be conclusive, this is not the first time breastfeeding and gluten intolerance have been linked. Still, the researchers are unaware exactly why breastfeeding reduces the risk in such a dramatic manner.
Theories include the fact that breast milk passes on immunities that allow for fewer intestinal infections. In this way, the bowel lining is not weakened, and gluten does not pass deeper into the gut than is healthy. Also, breastfed babies do not consume as much gluten during weaning as their non-breastfed counterparts.
Whatever the exact reasons, the studies do indicate that breastfeeding helps reduce the risks of gluten intolerance.
Prevailing medical wisdom suggests that infants should be breastfed exclusively for the first six months of life and then should be fed a balanced and complementary solid food diet in addition to breast milk.
Not all mothers, however, have the ability to breastfeed. In these cases, it is recommended that the mother consult an infant nutritionist to make sure that the formulas used do not contain gluten and that as the baby is weaned, he or she is not consuming what may be considered an unsafe amount of wheat-based products. Those with a family history of celiac disease should be especially vigilant in the first few years of your new baby's life.
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