High fibre during pregnancy reduces the risk of coeliac disease in children

High fibre during pregnancy reduces the risk of coeliac disease in children
© iStock/klenova

Consuming high fibre during pregnancy is linked with a decreased risk of coeliac disease in children according to research presented at ESPGHAN.

The 52nd annual meeting of the European Society of Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) has shown that the risk of paediatric coeliac disease was 8% lower per 10g increase in fibre intake during pregnancy. For those with the highest fibre intake (>45 grams per day), the risk was 34% lower in comparison to the lowest fibre intake (<19 grams per day). Does this mean that having foods with high fibre during pregnancy could reduce the risk of coeliac disease in children?

Consuming high fibre during pregnancy

High fibre 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.

The researchers measured mothers’ intake of fibre and gluten during pregnancy before analysing whether each child had received a clinical diagnosis of coeliac disease in a mean follow-up time of 11 years.

“Currently, there is very limited data on the association between maternal fibre or gluten intake during pregnancy and the risk of coeliac disease in children”, commented Dr Ketil Størdal, lead researcher of the study.

“As this is the first study on maternal fibre intake, we cannot yet recommend any specific dietary measures during pregnancy to prevent coeliac disease and this needs to be further studied but we are currently assessing whether maternal fibre intake could impact on children’s gut flora. This is one of the potential ways in which these findings can be explained.”

Coeliac disease in children

Coeliac 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 coeliac disease is strict compliance to a gluten free diet, which achieves remission of signs and symptoms.

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 coeliac disease diagnosis in children diagnosed cases of coeliac disease only represent a small fraction of the total number of people affected and most children remain undiagnosed.

Diagnosing coeliac disease as early as possible is essential for ensuring optimal growth, development and symptom management. There are many serious associated health complications if coeliac disease is left undiagnosed, including impaired weight gain and growth problems, delayed puberty, iron-deficiency anaemia, chronic fatigue and osteoporosis.

Improving public awareness

“By providing early detection programmes 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 programmes for early identification of paediatric coeliac diseases are two steps to achieve earlier diagnoses.”

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