High fiber intake during pregnancy is linked with a decreased risk of celiac disease in children, new research presented at the 52nd Annual Meeting of the European Society of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) has shown.
Experts from Norway found that the risk of pediatric celiac disease was 8% lower per 10g increase in fiber intake during pregnancy. For those with the highest fiber intake (>45 grams per day), the risk was 34% lower in comparison to the lowest fiber intake (<19 grams per day). High fiber intake from fruits and vegetables, rather than from cereals, were associated with the lowest risk.
The population-based study assessed over 88,000 children born between 1999 and 2009. Researchers measured mothers' intake of fiber and gluten during pregnancy before analyzing whether each child had received a clinical diagnosis of celiac disease in a mean follow-up time of 11 years.
"Currently, there is very limited data on the association between maternal fiber or gluten intake during pregnancy and the risk of celiac disease in children," commented Dr. Ketil Størdal, lead researcher of the study. "As this is the first study on maternal fiber intake, we cannot yet recommend any specific dietary measures during pregnancy to prevent celiac disease, and this needs to be further studied, but we are currently assessing whether maternal fiber intake could impact on children's gut flora. This is one of the potential ways in which these findings can be explained."
Celiac disease is a frequent and lifelong autoimmune condition, caused by an abnormal reaction to gluten - a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Affecting 1 in 100 children in the majority of European countries, the only treatment for celiac disease is strict compliance to a gluten-free diet, which achieves remission of signs and symptoms.
Notably, the research also found that maternal gluten intake during pregnancy was not associated with a higher risk of the disease. "Our findings do not support gluten restriction for pregnant women," concluded Dr. Størdal.
The Importance of Early Celiac Disease Diagnosis in Children
Diagnosed cases of celiac disease only represent a small fraction of the total number of people affected, and most children remain undiagnosed. Diagnosing celiac disease as early as possible is essential for ensuring optimal growth, development, and symptom management. There are many serious associated health complications if celiac disease is left undiagnosed, including impaired weight gain and growth problems, delayed puberty, iron-deficiency anemia, chronic fatigue and osteoporosis.
"By providing early detection programs for children, we can achieve earlier diagnosis and treatment, reduce the risk of future associated health complications and give children the opportunity to thrive," explained Tunde Koltai, Chair of the Association of European Coeliac Societies (AOECS).
"Greater public awareness and the establishment of national detection programs for early identification of pediatric celiac diseases are two steps to achieve earlier diagnoses."