Research by Evelina London might help to prevent coeliac disease

Posted on Wednesday 30th September 2020
Professor Gideon Lack standing in front of Big Ben.

Professor Gideon Lack

A study from Evelina London has suggested a new area of research to prevent coeliac disease.

The results suggest for the first time that children who eat substantial amounts of gluten early in life may be less likely to develop coeliac disease. The researchers caution that more evidence is needed before parents apply this finding in practice.

Coeliac disease is a disease where your immune system attacks your own tissues when you eat gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Around 1% of the UK population have coeliac disease, but only around a quarter of those are diagnosed. There is currently no way to prevent coeliac disease. Treatment for the disease focuses on avoiding gluten.

The study was led by Professor Gideon Lack, professor of paediatric allergy at King’s College London and head of the children’s allergy service at Evelina London. He said: "This is the first study that provides evidence that early introduction of significant amounts of wheat into a baby's diet before six months of age may prevent the development of coeliac disease. This strategy may also have implications for other autoimmune diseases."

One group of children in the study ate around two wheat-vased cereal biscuits a week from four months old. The team compared these results to children who avoided allergenic foods and were exclusively breast fed until age six months. The scientists tested all the children for antibodies that suggest coeliac disease. Of the 516 children who introduced gluten after six months of age, 1.4% developed coeliac disease by the time they were three. None of 488 children given gluten from four months had coeliac disease at three years old.

Author Dr Kirsty Logan, researcher in paediatric allergy at King’s College London said: "Early introduction of gluten and its role in the prevention of coeliac disease should be explored further, using the results of the EAT Study as the basis for larger clinical trials to definitively answer this question."

The results, published in JAMA Pediatrics, were from the Enquiring About Tolerance (EAT) Study. The study looked at when was the best time to introduce allergenic foods into the diet. It was a collaboration by scientists from King’s College London, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, St George’s, University of London, and Benaroya Research Institute, Seattle.