Using data gathered on children born in Bavaria, Germany between the years 2005-2007, researchers sought to make a connection between gastrointestinal or respiratory infections and the development of celiac disease. In each case, medical records were reviewed for treated infections up to age two, and then for any subsequent diagnosis of celiac disease.

The study by Beyerlein, Donnachie and Ziegler, recently published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, suggests that repeated gastrointestinal infections in the first year of life are strongly associated with development of celiac disease by age eight. This is consistent with similar studies, which have concluded that early respiratory infections are more closely related to type 1 diabetes development than to celiac disease development.

While medical professionals would be wise to take note of this relationship when assessing their patients, the study admits to a number of weaknesses. All information was taken from patient medical records and was sorted on the basis of diagnosis codes used by physicians; no laboratory or pathology reports were made available. Similarly, no information about socioeconomic status, infant feeding history, or antibiotic use was included in the data analysis. All of these factors could certainly contribute to, or provide information about, overall health and susceptibility to celiac disease.

The subjects included in the study experienced a variety of infections, both viral and bacterial, at varying ages. Despite this, the only statistically significant relationship was found to be that children who experienced multiple gastrointestinal infections in the first 12 months of life had a higher incidence of celiac disease diagnosis by age eight, regardless of the type of infection.  Researchers speculate that this may mean that persistent inflammation of the intestine is what triggers the celiac disease, rather than any specific pathogen.

Click here to read the entire study.

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Early Age Infections and the Onset of Celiac Disease