IN A WORLD OF PEOPLE swearing off gluten because their favorite mommy blog tells them to, there exists Celiac disease: a real gluten intolerance with serious potential long-term complications and malignancies. There’s been more than a bit of debate surrounding gluten out there, but for people dealing with Celiac, avoiding gluten is a real lifelong concern. New research out of Sweden has shed some light onto who develops Celiac disease and why; strangely, where you were born might have something to do with it.
Published in the medical journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, the study determined that viral diseases circulating in a given area when someone is born might increase the odds of them developing the disease in childhood. It was already known that low levels of vitamin D in pregnancy might have an effect on the developing fetus, but this is an entirely different consideration.
The findings are somewhat complex, but essentially show that, for each year studied, there was a region and time period where “Celiac births” seemed to be concentrated.
“One hypothesis for increased [Celiac disease] risk and spring/summer birth is that those infants are more likely to be weaned and introduced to gluten during autumn/winter, a time characterized by exposure to seasonal viral infections.”
Viral infections can alter the bacteria in the gut and can make the cells in the area more permeable, increasing the level of sensitivity. Celiac disease causes the body’s immune system to attack the small intestine and the gut when it senses gluten, damaging important nutrient-absorbing structures and making it harder for the stomach to digest food. Celiac disease wreaks all kinds of havoc in terms of symptoms, on top of that. It’s considered an autoimmune disease, which arises from a response to tissues and substances normally found in the body, as opposed to an allergy, which arises from a response to an external allergen.
While these findings about how season and region of birth can alter the risk of developing Celiac disease seem interesting, it’s hard to imagine what can be done about it. It’s not like scheduling baby births outside of flu season is always possible, and traveling to another part of the world to give birth poses problems beyond expense. The researchers did emphasize the importance of vitamin D in pregnancy, however, for preventing all kinds of health issues.
“A remaining possible link to sunlight and vitamin D is that pregnant women who give birth in spring have the lowest levels of vitamin D during late gestation when important programming and development of the fetal immune system takes place.”
Interestingly, some other recent research suggests that treating celiac disease with certain bacteria might be a future viable treatment. Apparently, there’s a bacterium in our saliva called Rothia that breaks down gluten, and it’s similar to a gluten-devouring bacterium called B. subtilis found in a Japanese fermented soybean dish called natto. This finding doesn’t provide any immediate answers, but it does give people dealing with Celiac disease hope for possible treatment options in the future beyond a gluten-free diet.