Celiac disease, defined as a 'chronic small intestinal immune-mediated enteropathy precipitated by exposure to dietary gluten in genetically predisposed individuals', affects about one percent of the population but occasional 'epidemics' have been noticed along with a seasonal variation in number of cases diagnosed.
Sweden has noticed an "epidemic" of celiac disease in children below two years of age but since celiac disease is considered multifactorial not much is known about potential risk- or protecting factors. But Swedish researchers now say repeated infections early in life increase the risk for getting it.
The Sweden-based, case controlled, study compared the health history of children diagnosed with celiac disease (475 cases, 950 referents) to similar children without celiac disease. The average age of development of celiac was at 11 months old, with diagnosis four months later. The team from Umeå University and Uppsala University found that having three or more infections (reported by parents) increased risk of celiac disease by 50%. Gastroenteritis on its own increased the risk by almost 80%. The final analyses included 954 children, 373 cases and 581 referents. Exposure information was obtained by questionnaires which included family characteristics, infant feeding, and the child's general health.
The highest risk was seen for children who had several infections before they were six months old and who also ate large amounts (compared to small/medium amounts) of gluten, soon after gluten was introduced, and if breastfeeding had stopped before the introduction of gluten to the diet.
Dr Anna Myléus, who led this study, explained, "While we do not know if the increased risk is due to a genetic predisposition to both infection and celiac disease, our results highlight the importance of breast feeding in reducing risk of celiac disease, especially for an infant who has frequent infections."
Citation: Anna Myléus, Olle Hernell, Leif Gothefors, Marie-Louise Hammarström, Lars-Åke Persson, Hans Stenlund and Anneli Ivarsson, 'Early infections are associated with increased risk for celiac disease: an incident case-referent study', BMC Pediatrics 2012, 12:194 doi:10.1186/1471-2431-12-194