Researchers from the Lund University in Malmo, Sweden observed the eating habits of 6,605 newborns between 2004 and 2010, who all had a genetic predisposition for coeliac disease. Every few months until they reached the age of five, they had their gluten intake recorded and compared against the levels of healthy children at the same stage.
Every one gram per day increase in consumption of the protein (the equivalent of half a slice of white bread) was associated with a 7.2 per cent increased risk of coeliac disease. In addition, the same amount was linked to a 6.1 per cent increased risk of coeliac disease autoimmunity - the first sign of the body's negative response to gluten. The majority of these diagnoses occurred between two and three-years-old.
"Higher gluten intake during the first five years of life was associated with statistically significantly increased risks of coeliac disease autoimmunity and coeliac disease among genetically predisposed children,” the study’s authors said. However, as the study was purely observational, they added that the findings should be taken with a grain of salt.
“Before we start giving dietary advice we need a large clinical trial to tell us whether removing gluten from the diet reduces the risk of developing coeliac disease, how strictly gluten needs to be removed from the diet and for how long,” Prof Kevin Whelan, Professor of Dietetics at King's College London said. “Certainly, any special dietary restrictions in babies and toddlers need to be done following consultation with a doctor and a dietitian for expert advice."