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  • Gryphon Myers
    Gryphon Myers

    Understanding Intestinal Bacteria in Infants at Risk of Developing Celiac Disease

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Caption: Photo: CC--Nathan Reading

    Celiac.com 05/30/2012 - From what we understand about celiac disease, both genetic and environmental factors play a part in its development: eople with certain genetic dispositions are more likely to develop it, but studies of twins at high risk of developing celiac disease have shown that in 25% of cases, only one of the twins will develop the disease. This indicates an environmental effect, and with more research it might be possible to discover what these environmental factors are so that parents with celiac disease can take steps to prevent their children from developing the disease themselves.

    Photo: CC--Nathan ReadingBreast-feeding has already demonstrated some protective effect on infants at risk of developing celiac disease, but it is still unclear how the modulation of intestinal bacteria affects the formation of the disease. Understanding the role various strains of intestinal bacteria play in the intestine could be the key to understanding why breast-feeding helps prevent celiac disease, and perhaps why celiac disease develops at all.

    In the present study, 75 newborns with at least one first degree relative with celiac disease were broken into breast-feeding, formula-feeding groups, high (7-28%) and low (less than 1%) genetic risk groups, then tested at 7 days, 1 month and 4 months for prevalence and diversity of intestinal bacteria.

    Infants at high risk of developing celiac disease had more Bacteroides vulgatus, regardless of feeding methods while infants at low risk of developing celiac disease had more Bacteroides ovatus, Bacteroides plebeius and Bacteroides uniformis.

    Formula-fed infants had more Bacteroides intestinalis, Bacteroides caccae and Bacteroides plebeius, though prevalence depended on the testing stage.

    The most striking finding of the experiment seems to indicate that both low genetic risk of celiac disease development and breast-feeding are positively correlated with the prevalence of Bacteroides uniformis in the intestines. This might explain why breast-feeding can help protect against development of the disease, by introducing more Bacteroides uniformis into the infant's intestinal bacteria community.

    The implications of this research are still unclear, but a follow-up study on these infants is intended. Further research may explain how the prevalence of these bacteria in the intestine actually affects the development of celiac disease in infants.

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    This might help explain why my son didn't show any of the classic signs of celiac until he weaned (a few months after he turned 2). He always had GI issues, but none of the more extreme ones. Makes me wonder what will happen with my second born after he weans...

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    I wish that breast feeding did prevent celiac disease, however my daughter was breast-fed and developed celiac symptoms at 5 months. She is now 8 months and still breast fed, however I have had to cut out gluten to eliminate her symptoms. I'm afriad this will prevent parents who have breast-fed babies to not consider celiac disease as a possibility. It does happen when breastfeeding and she does not take formula.

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  • About Me

    Gryphon Myers recently graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in interdisciplinary studies, research emphasis in art, society and technology. He is a lifelong vegetarian, an organic, local and GMO-free food enthusiast and a high fructose corn syrup abstainer. He currently lives in Northern California. He also writes about and designs video games at Homunkulus.

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