November 15, 2005

Breast-feeding may protect against celiac disease

LONDON (Reuters) - Mothers who breast-feed their children
may help to protect them from developing celiac disease, an
intolerance to a protein found in wheat, rye and barley,
scientists said on Tuesday.

In a review of 15 studies, they found that the longer
children are breast fed the less likely they are to suffer from
the illness.

"Breast feeding may offer protection against the
development of celiac disease," said Dr Tony Akobeng of the
Central Manchester Children's University Hospital in England.

But he and his team said in a report published in the
Archives of Disease in Childhood they are not sure whether
breast feeding delays the onset of symptoms of the illness or
provides permanent protection against it.

People who suffer from celiac disease have an intolerance
to gluten and are unable to eat wheat, barley and rye products.
It is a genetic disease in which the immune system damages the
small intestine when gluten is eaten.

The review, which involved more than 4,000 children, showed
that if babies were breast-fed when they were introduced to
solid foods containing gluten, it cut their risk of suffering
from the illness by 52 percent compared to other youngsters.

The researchers said they are not sure how breast feeding
protects a child from the illness. They suspect it could reduce
their exposure to gluten or curb the immune system's response
to the protein.

celiac disease can produce a variety of symptoms including
weight loss, diarrhea, fatigue, muscle cramps and abdominal
pain and bloating. The only treatment is to eat a gluten-free