Celiac Disease: Is Your Child At Increased Risk?

While this autoimmune disease used to be rare, a growing number of children today suffer from the condition, and researchers believe that increases in C-section deliveries in recent years could be one of several possible explanations for this trend.

What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is a digestive condition that causes the small intestine to be unable to process gluten (a protein contained in wheat products). This prevents the proper absorption of needed nutrients and as a result, children with celiac disease run the risk of becoming malnourished and suffering from a variety of related health problems.

The Link between Celiac Disease and C-Section
Researchers from the Hannover Medical School in Germany looked at a group of children with celiac disease and found that as many as 80 percent of them had been delivered by C-section rather than through a vaginal birth.

They believe the relationship between delivery method and celiac disease comes down to the fact that babies who travel through the birth canal are exposed to microbes that prepare their bodies to process the gluten. Without this experience, their guts may not be properly equipped to handle the task. These findings were included in the June 2010 issue of Pediatrics.

Celiac Disease is a Growing Problem
It's not only children born by C-section who are at risk for celiac disease. Researchers from the Mayo Clinic found that rates of this condition have increased significantly in the past 50 years and they believe that reduced exposure to germs in the environment could also be to blame.

Children today grow up in much cleaner living spaces than in the past, and this may be prompting their immune systems to go out of whack. Changes to the wheat supply and production may be compounding the problem.

The Symptoms of Celiac Disease
Children with celiac disease can experience a range of stomach ailments after eating products containing wheat, rye, and barely. Some of the common symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Anemia
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Failure to thrive

What You Can Do
If you think your child has celiac disease, you'll need to see your pediatrician to confirm the diagnosis. You can't make this illness go away but you can address it effectively by ensuring she avoids all products containing gluten. The good news is that a growing number of gluten-free alternatives can be found in health food stores and supermarkets.

If you plan to have more children in the future, you should also talk to your obstetrician about the benefits of having a vaginal delivery instead of a C-section.

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)/Pediatrics Journal

Celiac Disease Foundation

US Department of Health and Human Services