The Unexpected Reason You May Develop Celiac Disease

If you're out to dinner with someone who asks if the restaurant has any gluten-free options, you may react by rolling your eyes, saying, "Just eat the bread!" But while eating bread may be an option for those who opt to eat gluten-free as a personal choice, people with celiac disease often don't have that luxury.

Much more than not being able to eat bread, celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disease. When people with celiac disease consume foods containing the protein gluten — like wheat, rye, and barley — it triggers an immune response that wreaks havoc on the small intestine and damages the villi. Villi are the small, hairlike receptors in the small intestine through which we absorb nutrients (per Celiac Disease Foundation).

While celiac disease is hereditary and occurs in people who are genetically predisposed to it, a recent study has found a potential connection between childhood eating habits and celiac diagnosis. Let's take a closer look.

Which food can increase the risk of developing celiac disease?

In a 2019 study published in JAMA, researchers were able to draw a connection between the amount of gluten children consume and the incidence of celiac disease. The study included 6,600 children across Sweden, Finland, Germany, and the United States who were at increased risk of developing celiac disease were observed through the first five years of their lives.

A press release describing the findings explains that because it was an observational study, it cannot prove causation. However, the data indicates that consuming certain levels of gluten in the first few years of life can increase the risk of developing celiac disease (per Science Daily).

The lead author of the article, Carin Andrén Aronsson, explained in the press release that children who ate more than two grams of gluten a day (think: one slice of bread) at the age of 2 had a 75% increase in the risk of developing celiac disease, when compared to children who ate less than 2 grams of gluten daily.

While Aronsson clarifies that it's difficult to make hard and fast rules about limiting gluten intake (as gluten intake is variable), Daniel Agardh, lead researcher on the study, believes that it's up to government food agencies to decide what kinds of limitations should be put on gluten consumption. He also made sure to note that most children involved in the study did not actually develop celiac disease.