Do you want a Gluten Free Baby?
Many people who are not celiac may wonder why people would consider restricting a baby’s diet from gluten or wheat, unless there is an obvious reaction. The following new research suggests some very good reasons to ‘play it safe’.
Research by the UK department of health (March 2006) saw them recommend that “gluten should not be given to babies under six months, and never as a first weaning food for babies with a family history of allergy or celiac disease” The very good reason for this was that “the symptoms of celiac disease are usually first seen in babies between nine and 18 months of age. Symptoms include: diarrhea, weight loss or poor weight gain, malnutrition, anemia, poor appetite and tummy bloating.”
This means that by the time a baby has acquired the disease, and obvious symptoms occur, it is too late to reverse the disease. They also suggested that women should continue “exclusive breastfeeding until (their) baby is six months old. Waiting until six months to introduce solid foods into your baby’s diet will help minimize the risk of her developing adverse reactions to foods and allergies, including celiac disease.”
An update on this research was made by University of Colorado scientists and appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It states that “babies had a lower chance of developing the digestive disorder celiac disease if they were not fed grains until aged four to six months. But even more critical than this is that the “exposure to gluten – a protein found in wheat – in the first three months of life increased the risk of celiac disease five-fold. Children not exposed until they were older than seven months were also more likely to develop celiac disease than infants exposed when they were aged between four and six months.”
All of this sounds very unlikely until the mechanism for this “two month window” was explored. It was found that “For gluten to evoke an allergic reaction it has to cross the gut barrier so that it can be recognized by the body’s immune cells. At very young ages, such as the first three months of life, this barrier may not be as complete as at older ages, thus allowing gliadin to pass even with small amounts of intake.”
“Conversely, when wheat products are introduced to an older child, such as those older than seven months, it tends to be in larger portion sizes, thus increasing the amount of gluten available to cross the gut. Even if a small proportion of the available gluten crosses the gut, it may be sufficient to initiate an adverse response. The increased rate after seven months maybe due to “the frequency of exposure at initial introduction increased with age. But given that the children studied were all from families with a strong history of celiac disease, the researchers said their findings might not apply to all children.”
At the simplest level they still suggest that weaning from breast milk and the introduction of gluten grains should not occur before six months. But as many celiac already know, “children with a parent or other first degree relative with celiac disease had a one in 10 chance of developing the intolerance themselves.” Other sources quote that “Since wheat is an allergen, we are often of the belief that it should be avoided in our baby’s diet until after 12 months old. A few sources do say to not introduce wheat until after 1, 2 or even 3 years old. The majority of sources however agree that wheat may be introduced around the age of 8-9 months old. It is best to wait to introduce wheat until you are certain that your infant has no reactions to rice, oats or barley.”
Confusing? It is believed that it is the increased gluten volume in wheat and the many manufactured foods that we unknowingly digest that has had our systems overload and essentially refuse any level of gluten. If you are a celiac it appears that no level of gluten will be safe for your baby. If you wish to manage the introduction of gluten to a baby then the latest research cited above suggests that the miracle two month window between 4 and 6 months may be the key. But with this research being only one study with only 1,500 children it is likely that recommendations will be refined in the future.
This leads to the conclusion that as YOU are unlikely to be able to reduce the amount of gluten in grains (unless you are a farmer or biologist). YOU are also unlikely to ever know the amount of gluten in the many foods that you consume or feed your baby. So the only safe way to raise a baby with minimum risk of becoming a celiac may be to raise your child gluten free from the start. That is, gluten will invariably sneak into their diet, and it seems that there is no consensus on a safe levels of gluten so total avoidance may be the only solution. If gluten could be universally and accurately measured and listed on packaging this would help.
So what exactly is gluten free baby food? Baby gf foods can range from typical jars of suitable puréed fruit baby food to gf snacks It is a shame that the state of the simple foods that many people eat often contain excessive levels of gluten. This means that it will always be safest to avoid all gluten sources, particularly for a fragile baby’s immune system. Unless you do it is likely that they will have a much higher likelihood of becoming a celiac and thus have no choice on the kind of diet they will have to follow throughout adulthood.