Celiac Disease, Gluten And Children

Researchers posit introducing gluten at specific points of time during infancy development might be the key to celiac disease prevention. A few recent studies tested the hypothesis on an infant population who were genetically at risk for developing the disease.1

Celiac Disease - Diagram 1

Di Sabatino A, Corazza GR. Coeliac disease. Lancet. 2009;373:1480–1493.

For those unfamiliar, celiac disease is (very simply) defined as an autoimmune disorder, which is caused by a reaction to gliadin.2 Gliadin is a prolamine protein, which is found in wheat.3 Those with celiac disease are usually also sensitive to other proteins, which are chemically similar in structure.4, 5

Celiac Disease - Diagram 2

World J Gastroenterol. Nov 14, 2012; 18(42): 6036–6059.

Surprisingly, the researchers’ hypothesis was disproved.6 The studies exhibited that children developed the disease equally, regardless of the time frame of gluten introduction. Perhaps most surprisingly, breastfeeding didn’t seem to provide any protective benefits either, which is seemingly contradictory to earlier scientific findings.7

Celiac Disease - Diagram 3

BMC Pediatr. 2011; 11: 46.

Children with chronic illnesses are known to be more predisposed to emotional and behavioral problems.8 The above chart (MASC Tscore Mean) shows the increased rate of emotional and behavioral problems in children with celiac disease.9 Since the topic of gluten, celiac disease and children is a somewhat sensitive one, it is important for us to look at the likely cause of the disease.10 Causative, not correlative, mechanisms and reasons are, at the end of the day, what’s really important about scientific findings.11 What we seem to have learned from these very well conducted studies, is that celiac disease may be caused almost entirely by genetics.12

Celiac Disease Table 1

World J Gastroenterol. 2012 November 14; 18(42): 6036–6059.

Almost all people with celiac disease have one of 2 genes, DQ2 or DQ8.13 The above table shows the worldwide frequency and distribution of the genes.14 However, interestingly, about 33% of the population also has one of these genes – but they never develop the disease.15 This leads researchers to think that perhaps there are lifestyle and/or epigenetic factors at play, as well.16

Celiac Disease Diagram 3

J Clin Invest. 2011;121(6):2126-2132. doi:10.1172/JCI58109.

Genetic and diet-induced obesity are associated with alterations of (i) the composition and (ii) the functional properties of the gut microbiota. (A) Leptin-deficient ob/ob mice rapidly gain weight. Development of obesity correlates with a shift in the abundance of the 2 dominating divisions, the Bacteroidetes and the Firmicutes. Compared to lean ob/+ or +/+ littermates, obesity was associated with a 50% reduction in Bacteroidetes and a proportional division-wide increase in Firmicutes. Moreover, ob/ob mice showed an increase in environmental gene tags that matched Archaea, methanogenic microorganisms that might promote bacterial fermentation by removing one of its end products, namely hydrogen (H2). The metagenomic analysis of the obese gut microbiome revealed an increase in glycoside hydrolases, capable of breaking down otherwise indigestible alimentary polysaccharides. Furthermore, the obese microbiome showed enrichment for transport proteins and fermentation enzymes further processing breakdown products. As a consequence, ob/ob mice have an increased capacity to harvest energy from their diet. (B) The interrelationship between diet, intestinal microbial ecology, and energy homeostasis was investigated in a mouse model of diet-induced obesity.28 The microbiota of mice fed a high-fat/high-sugar prototypic Western diet was compared with the microbiota of mice receiving a low-fat/high-polysaccharide diet. Again, as in the ob/ob model, the Western diet was associated with an increased body weight, a lower relative abundance of Bacteroidetes, and a higher relative abundance of Firmicutes. However, unlike in the ob/ob model this shift was not division-wide. The overall diversity of the Western diet-associated gut microbiota dropped dramatically. The reason was a bloom in a single class of the Firmicutes—the Mollicutes. The Western diet gut microbiome was enriched for genes involved in import and fermentation of simple sugars and host glycans, enriched for genes for beta-fructosidases, and depleted for genes involved in motility. Gastroenterology Volume 136, Issue 5, Pages 1476–1483, May 2009 .

Tilg, Herbert et al. Gastroenterology. Volume 136 , Issue 5 , 1476 – 1483

One hypothesis is that changes may occur, in gut bacteria, before the disease develops.17 This means that things such as antibiotics, refined sugar, artificial colors, gluten and other artificial food elements may be causing detrimental changes in the microbiome.18 This would also mean that intervening with a probiotic might be one possible “fix.”19, 20 Above, we can see how changes in microbiota, sometimes brought upon by diet, affect many changes and processes in the body.21, 22

Prevalence of celiac disease worldwide. N/A: Not available. World J Gastroenterol. Nov 14, 2012; 18(42): 6036–6059.

World J Gastroenterol. Nov 14, 2012; 18(42): 6036–6059.

Hypothetically, it would make sense that the recent rise in celiac disease could be due to our massive shift in diet.23 We have changed our diet, almost totally and completely, since the 1970s.24, 25 Obviously, our genome has not really had much time to adapt to these changes.26

Another interesting factor that has also changed since the 1970s is that children are exposed to fewer germs – and parents are much more vigilant about cleanliness.27 This theory of disease is nicknamed the “hygiene hypothesis.”28 With decreased exposure to harmful environmental elements, which our body then learns to defend itself against, children’s immune systems may be turning inward – attacking the body’s own tissue, instead.29, 30

Though the cause of celiac disease may be genetic, the only cure, as has long been known, is a gluten-free diet.31 On the diet, the small intestinal mucosal injury heals and gluten-induced symptoms and signs disappear.32 If you have children, the best course of action is a screening, to see if they may be at risk for celiac disease.33 This goes doubly if any family members have the disease, as the genetic risk factor makes the likelihood increase.34

However, regardless of your children’s potential risk for developing celiac disease, it is not a good idea to be eat gluten.35, 36 There are many downsides to gluten, and it has many negative effects on the body and mind.37, 38, 39, 40 In fact, one study showed that removing gluten from the diet reduced adiposity, inflammation and insulin resistance.41

Other studies have shown that in some individuals, gluten sensitivity was shown to manifest solely with neurological dysfunction, though this point is somewhat debatable.42, 43, 44 What is interesting, however we previously detailed, is that schizophrenics among others with mental disorders, seem to respond positively to the removal of gluten from the diet.45

As should be obvious by now, you can see the benefits in removing gluten and gluten-like compounds from your children’s diet. Therefore, a Paleo Diet, which is rich in nutrients and avoids problematic proteins like gluten, is the best course of action to take – for both children and adults. You will likely see a decrease in your blood pressure, improve your glucose tolerance and your lipid profile.46 These are all healthy, positive changes – whether you’re young or old.


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3. Thompson T. Wheat starch, gliadin, and the gluten-free diet. J Am Diet Assoc. 2001;101(12):1456-9.

4. Troncone R, Auricchio S, De vincenzi M, Donatiello A, Farris E, Silano V. An analysis of cereals that react with serum antibodies in patients with coeliac disease. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 1987;6(3):346-50.

5. Hollén E, Högberg L, Stenhammar L, Fälth-magnusson K, Magnusson KE. Antibodies to oat prolamines (avenins) in children with coeliac disease. Scand J Gastroenterol. 2003;38(7):742-6.

6. Available at: http://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/health-wellness/2014/10/05/studies-find-tactics-prevent-celiac-disease-newborns-don-work/zsbjwMAjdYOPFzRsDhriuO/story.html. Accessed October 12, 2014.

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9. Mazzone L, Reale L, Spina M, et al. Compliant gluten-free children with celiac disease: an evaluation of psychological distress. BMC Pediatr. 2011;11:46.

10. Niewinski MM. Advances in celiac disease and gluten-free diet. J Am Diet Assoc. 2008;108(4):661-72.

11. Verhulst B, Eaves LJ, Hatemi PK. Correlation not causation: the relationship between personality traits and political ideologies. Am J Pol Sci. 2012;56(1):34-51.

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13. Castro-antunes MM, Crovella S, Brandão LA, Guimaraes RL, Motta ME, Silva GA. Frequency distribution of HLA DQ2 and DQ8 in celiac patients and first-degree relatives in Recife, northeastern Brazil. Clinics (Sao Paulo). 2011;66(2):227-31.

14. Gujral N, Freeman HJ, Thomson AB. Celiac disease: prevalence, diagnosis, pathogenesis and treatment. World J Gastroenterol. 2012;18(42):6036-59.

15. Szałowska-woźniak DA, Bąk-romaniszyn L, Cywińska-bernas A, Zeman K. Evaluation of HLA-DQ2/DQ8 genotype in patients with celiac disease hospitalised in 2012 at the Department of Paediatrics. Prz Gastroenterol. 2014;9(1):32-7.

16. Alegría-torres JA, Baccarelli A, Bollati V. Epigenetics and lifestyle. Epigenomics. 2011;3(3):267-77.

17. Nistal E, Caminero A, Herrán AR, et al. Differences of small intestinal bacteria populations in adults and children with/without celiac disease: effect of age, gluten diet, and disease. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2012;18(4):649-56.

18. Kau AL, Ahern PP, Griffin NW, Goodman AL, Gordon JI. Human nutrition, the gut microbiome and the immune system. Nature. 2011;474(7351):327-36.

19. Tillisch K, Labus J, Kilpatrick L, et al. Consumption of fermented milk product with probiotic modulates brain activity. Gastroenterology. 2013;144(7):1394-401, 1401.e1-4.

20. Cryan JF, Dinan TG. Mind-altering microorganisms: the impact of the gut microbiota on brain and behaviour. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2012;13(10):701-12.

21. Tilg H, Moschen AR, Kaser A. Obesity and the microbiota. Gastroenterology. 2009;136(5):1476-83.

22. Tilg H, Kaser A. Gut microbiome, obesity, and metabolic dysfunction. J Clin Invest. 2011;121(6):2126-32.

23. Brown K, Decoffe D, Molcan E, Gibson DL. Diet-induced dysbiosis of the intestinal microbiota and the effects on immunity and disease. Nutrients. 2012;4(8):1095-119.

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28. Rook GA. Review series on helminths, immune modulation and the hygiene hypothesis: the broader implications of the hygiene hypothesis. Immunology. 2009;126(1):3-11.

29. Bloomfield SF, Stanwell-smith R, Crevel RW, Pickup J. Too clean, or not too clean: the hygiene hypothesis and home hygiene. Clin Exp Allergy. 2006;36(4):402-25.

30. Romagnani S. The increased prevalence of allergy and the hygiene hypothesis: missing immune deviation, reduced immune suppression, or both?. Immunology. 2004;112(3):352-63.

31. See J, Murray JA. Gluten-free diet: the medical and nutrition management of celiac disease. Nutr Clin Pract. 2006;21(1):1-15.

32. Mäki M. Celiac disease treatment: gluten-free diet and beyond. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2014;59 Suppl 1:S15-7.

33. Aggarwal S, Lebwohl B, Green PH. Screening for celiac disease in average-risk and high-risk populations. Therap Adv Gastroenterol. 2012;5(1):37-47.

34. Rubio-tapia A, Van dyke CT, Lahr BD, et al. Predictors of family risk for celiac disease: a population-based study. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2008;6(9):983-7.

35. Biesiekierski JR, Newnham ED, Irving PM, et al. Gluten causes gastrointestinal symptoms in subjects without celiac disease: a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trial. Am J Gastroenterol. 2011;106(3):508-14.

36. Marziali M, Venza M, Lazzaro S, Lazzaro A, Micossi C, Stolfi VM. Gluten-free diet: a new strategy for management of painful endometriosis related symptoms?. Minerva Chir. 2012;67(6):499-504.

37. Drago S, El asmar R, Di pierro M, et al. Gliadin, zonulin and gut permeability: Effects on celiac and non-celiac intestinal mucosa and intestinal cell lines. Scand J Gastroenterol. 2006;41(4):408-19.

38. Gluten sensitivity as a neurological illness. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry. 2002;72(5):560.

39. Hadjivassiliou M, Grünewald RA, Kandler RH, et al. Neuropathy associated with gluten sensitivity. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatr. 2006;77(11):1262-6.

40. Hadjivassiliou M, Grünewald RA, Lawden M, Davies-jones GA, Powell T, Smith CM. Headache and CNS white matter abnormalities associated with gluten sensitivity. Neurology. 2001;56(3):385-8.

41. Soares FL, De oliveira matoso R, Teixeira LG, et al. Gluten-free diet reduces adiposity, inflammation and insulin resistance associated with the induction of PPAR-alpha and PPAR-gamma expression. J Nutr Biochem. 2013;24(6):1105-11.

42. Hadjivassiliou M, Sanders DS, Grünewald RA, Woodroofe N, Boscolo S, Aeschlimann D. Gluten sensitivity: from gut to brain. Lancet Neurol. 2010;9(3):318-30.

43. Nijeboer P, Mulder C, Bouma G. [Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity: hype, or new epidemic?]. Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd. 2013;157(21):A6168.

44. Biesiekierski JR, Peters SL, Newnham ED, Rosella O, Muir JG, Gibson PR. No effects of gluten in patients with self-reported non-celiac gluten sensitivity after dietary reduction of fermentable, poorly absorbed, short-chain carbohydrates. Gastroenterology. 2013;145(2):320-8.e1-3.

45. Kraft BD, Westman EC. Schizophrenia, gluten, and low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diets: a case report and review of the literature. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2009;6(1):10.

46. Frassetto LA, Schloetter M, Mietus-synder M, Morris RC, Sebastian A. Metabolic and physiologic improvements from consuming a paleolithic, hunter-gatherer type diet. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2009;63(8):947-55.