Children who have a lot of infections in the first 18 months of life may have an increased risk for celiac disease, a new study from Norway suggests.
The study found that children with 10 or more respiratory and gastrointestinal infections during the first 18 months of life were 30 percent more likely to develop celiac disease than kids who had fewer than five infections. The researchers also found that 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 Dr. Karl Marild, 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,” Marild said.
The study’s findings were published recently in The American Journal of Gastroenterology.
However, while the study linked a greater number of infections with an increased risk of celiac disease, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship. It’s possible that children who had more infections were more likely to be diagnosed with celiac simply because they spent much more time in the health care system, the researchers said.
“We cannot rule out that the association found may somewhat have been influenced by increased health care surveillance, including diagnostic workup for celiac disease, among the children with high infection frequency,” Marild said.
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, the researchers explained.
For the study, the researchers analyzed information from nearly 73,000 children born in Norway. The children were born between 2000 and 2009, and the average follow-up time was 8.5 years. Just under 1 percent of the children eventually developed celiac disease, the study found.
Previous research has also suggested that infections may boost the risk of celiac disease, the study authors added.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about celiac disease.