Infections in early life seem to increase the likelihood of developing coeliac disease, German researchers report.

Over a median of 8.5 years, 0.29 per cent of the 295,420 infants enrolled developed coeliac disease. After adjusting for sex, birth month and previous healthcare visits, the risk of coeliac disease was 32 and 22 per cent higher in children who had a gastrointestinal or respiratory infection in the first year of life. Repeated respiratory and, in particular, gastrointestinal infections during the first year of life increased the cumulative risk of coeliac disease.

“Our data do not allow a conclusion [as to] whether the observed associations are causal or are based on changes in the microbiome or specific immune responses,” said author Andreas Beyerlein from the Institute for Diabetes Research at Helmholtz Zentrum München.

“However, it seems that the increased risk of coeliac disease is associated with a permanent inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract in early childhood and is not caused by a specific viral or bacterial pathogen.”

American Journal of Epidemiology DOI: 10.1093/aje/kwx190

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