Health

Giving babies Weetabix from four months ‘worth exploring’

Introducing gluten to a baby's diet before six months may prevent children developing coeliac disease, research suggests.

The findings are "really exciting" but larger trials are needed before any benefits can be confirmed, says the King's College London team.

Current advice is that babies should only be given solids from six months.

Coeliac disease is caused by a bad reaction to gluten, found in wheat, barley and rye.

It affects around 1% of children and adults, and can cause symptoms such as diarrhoea, bloating and vomiting, because of damage caused to the lining of the gut.

Scientists have discovered that introducing tiny doses of peanuts in children with severe peanut allergies could slowly build up their tolerance, and the same approach is being tried with other foods.

As part of the EAT study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, scientists looked at the effects of babies consuming gluten two months earlier than normal, alongside breast milk.

One group of 488 babies had two Weetabix per week, or 4g of wheat protein, from the age of four months.

Another group of 516 were not introduced to gluten until six months old, as NHS guidance recommends.

When tested for coeliac disease at three years old, no babies in the first group were diagnosed with the condition – but seven babies in the second group were.

'Developing immune system'

Dr Kirsty Logan, study author and researcher in paediatric allergy at King's College London, said the numbers were small but the evidence "points in the right direction".

"Early introduction of gluten and its role in the prevention of coeliac disease should be explored further," she said.

To date, studies exploring this area have varied in the amount of gluten given to babies and when it was introduced, resulting in no solid evidence.

Researchers are still not clear exactly why it might be a good thing to give babies an early taste of gluten – but Dr Logan has a theory.

"It would appear that there's a short window of opportunity while the immune system is developing, to programme it in a different way," she explained.

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