A study conducted in Norway indicates children who have 10 or more respiratory and gastrointestinal infections in their first 18 months of life may have an increased risk for celiac disease.
According to an Oct. 2 report in HealthDay News, the study found such children were 30% more likely to develop celiac disease than kids who had fewer than five infections. The researchers also found youngsters with repeated respiratory infections were at greater risk than those with repeated gastrointestinal infections.
“We think there are many pieces to the puzzle that must fit together for someone to develop celiac disease, where heredity, gluten intake and possibly many other environmental factors are important,” study first author Karl Marild, MD, PhD, from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in Oslo, said in an institute news release.
“Perhaps having frequent infections in early life influences the immune system so that it is subsequently more likely to react to gluten.”
The study, which was published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between multiple infections and celiac disease. Researchers said it’s possible children who had more infections were more likely to be diagnosed with celiac because they spent much more time in the healthcare system. However, the study noted that previous research also suggested infections might boost the risk of celiac disease.
“We cannot rule out that the association found may somewhat have been influenced by increased healthcare surveillance, including diagnostic workup for celiac disease, among the children with high infection frequency,” Marild said in the institute release.
People with celiac disease can’t eat gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. If someone with celiac eats gluten, it triggers a damaging immune-system response in their bodies, according to the researchers.
The researchers analyzed information from nearly 73,000 children born in Norway between 2000 and 2009. The average follow-up time was 8.5 years. Just under 1% of the children eventually developed celiac disease, according to the study.
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