Gluten Intolerance, Celiac Disease and Breastfeeding – Good and Bad

Whether you are gluten intolerant or not, this is a must read article on how you may prevent gluten intolerance in your child. Dr. Vikki Petersen provides scientific evidence on gluten intolerance, celiac disease and breastfeeding for all future mothers or mother’s of infants.

Gluten Intolerance and the Benefits of Breast Milk – Good and Bad?

By: Dr. Vikki Petersen

Dr. Vikki Petersen

I have always been a big proponent of breast feeding. Children who are breastfed are found to have higher IQs and a better overall health status. The benefits that Mother Nature packs in mother’s milk has not been successfully mimicked by any man-made product. Far from it, in fact –the formulas on the market are quite atrocious when it comes to nutritional standards for health.

Does breast feeding reduce your child’s chances of developing celiac disease?

It turns out that the risk of developing celiac disease was shown to decrease by a whopping 63% for children breast fed for more than two months compared to those children breast fed for less than two months. I will admit that I would have lost that bet – I would have assumed that two months wasn’t long enough to make that large a difference. But apparently a little goes a long way when it comes to the value of breast milk.

Another study looked at children fed breast milk for three months or more and found an even better result. These children were five times less likely to develop celiac disease as compared to those babies who fell within the less than three month mark.

We used to think that celiac was a yes or no proposition with no gray areas. In other words it was believed that you were born with the disease or you were not. That is incorrect and recent research has proven that celiac can develop in those who have the genetic predisposition at any time during their life. In fact the incidence of celiac disease in the general population is known to increase from 1% to 4% with age.

This tells us that the presence of genes for celiac disease and gluten in the diet are not sufficient to cause the disease to manifest itself. What’s the third factor? The health of the GI tract is the final link. A healthy GI tract will have adequate healthy probiotics to keep the celiac disease genes turned off, thereby preventing the disease from expressing itself. The unhealthy GI tract no longer has robust good bacteria and their weakening numbers makes them incapable of keeping bad genes turned off with the result being the ‘turning on’ of the celiac genes.

Getting back to breastfeeding, it is known that breast milk is a wonderful colonizer within the gut of healthy probiotic organisms. The colostrum mother produces helps the baby’s immune system mature, thereby preventing disease, especially digestive infections that could create a leaky gut and increased predisposition to gluten intolerance as well as other food reactions.

What about the timing of introducing gluten to children?

Two major studies confirm that timing may be quite critical. In one it was found that infants who were receiving breast milk at the time of gluten introduction had a 52% reduced risk of developing celiac disease as compared with those babies who were not receiving breast milk when gluten was introduced into their diet.

The second study was a landmark study conducted in Sweden, unbeknownst to anyone at the time it occurred. In other words, only retrospectively, was it understood what happened. Here’s the story: In the 1980s a change of guidelines occurred as regards to when gluten should be introduced into the diet of an infant. Prior it had been maintained that gluten should be introduced while a child was receiving breast milk. In the 1980s the new guideline recommended that gluten be introduced after weaning had occurred.

The result was a dramatic spike in the incidence of celiac disease in the country of Sweden. After much research, the guideline was reversed and the incidence of celiac disease was restored to its prior level.

Can Gluten in Mom’s Diet be found in Breast Milk?

I was very happy to find this study passed along by the Gluten Intolerance Group that confirmed something I’ve seen clinically for years, but heretofore had not seen any research support.

When babies would come in with colic or constipation or vomiting or rashes or a host of other ailments, the first thing we would do with a breastfeeding mom is change HER diet. We saw, that when Mom was no longer ingesting gluten or dairy (or whatever the offending food was found to be) baby’s symptoms resolved. Obviously that points to the fact that these foods traveled in to the breast milk in a form that could bother baby.

Yet many researchers have stated that the gluten protein was not found in breast milk and there was no indication that a mother consuming gluten could affect her child’s health through her breast milk. When research does not agree with my clinical evidence of working with patients, I have learned that clinical experience usually wins out. And so it was in this case. The study cited by GIG referenced that indeed gliadin (the protein found in gluten) was found in high levels in the milk samples of 54 out of 80 healthy mothers on a normal, unrestricted diet. While the presence of gliadin would be fine with a child having no tendency toward intolerance, it obviously is a big problem for those little ones that are already expressing a reaction.

In summary, breastfeeding is very important and healthy for baby. The only caveat is perhaps needing to alter what Mom is eating to prevent certain sensitive foods from entering into the milk. This is not difficult however and a happy baby is well worth the effort.

I hope you found this informative and please pass it along to the mothers and future mothers whom you know.

If you would like any assistance in improving your health, I invite you to take advantage of a free health analysis. Our destination clinic treats patients from across the country and internationally. Call 408-733-0400 to set up an appointment.

To your good health,

Dr Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN
Founder of HealthNOW Medical Center
Co-author of “The Gluten Effect”
Author of the eBook “Gluten Intolerance – What you don’t know may be killing you!”

5 Replies to “Gluten Intolerance, Celiac Disease and Breastfeeding – Good and Bad”

  1. I would just like to say that as the breastfeeding mum of a baby who has a cow milk allergy and is now suspected of having an allergy to either gluten or soja, cutting entire food groups out of your diet is NOT easy and your saying it is shows a lack of empathy for mothers confronted with such issues. Everytime my son reacts to my milk I feel so guilty. I almost feel like weaning him onto formula would be healthier for him. It was hard enough cutting out all dairy, and my son’s allergy is sensitive enough to react to any dairy I consume so I really have to read all ingredients. Now we think he may have an additional allergy which may have developed since his RAST testing, this would be another food group I may need to remove. I already had to express breast milk for the first 6 weeks because he was born with a cleft lip. Should I now feel guilty that I’m considering weaning him because it’s “easy” to avoid entire food groups?

  2. I have 7 children, going on 8, and while we have no “sure” confirmation of Celiac Disease in them, we do know that they are all gluten intolerant at least, to different extents. I didn’t not know of my issues, or my children’s until almost 3 years ago. We had all had health issues resulting from eating gluten, but were always told it was IBS (of course, it’s always IBS).
    I breastfed all of my children. The shortest was for 2 months, because he had a highly arched, almost cleft palate and could not latch, and breast pumps do not work for me to keep milk coming in for some reason. My other kids were breastfed anywhere from 10-26 months. I don’t know if it makes a difference that I was consuming gluten at the time of breastfeeding them, but I have not had gluten since having my 2 year old, and she has accidentally been exposed to gluten and ended up with a tummy ache.

    1. Hi Mindie,

      Thank you so much for sharing your story of gluten sensitivity or celiac disease! It appears you’ve done everything right, despite your children’s symptoms. Genes are genes, and if that’s the case with your children, I hope your entire family gets tested and diagnosed very soon to enable doctors to watch for vitamin deficiencies and more!


  3. Interesting article — I would like to know more data on this.

    My sister and I both have celiac disease – and we were each breastfed until we were 6 or 7 months old. My sister also has a string of health issues – mostly all autoimmune. We also have a lot of autoimmune disease in our family and extended family — which makes me think a lot of that is genetic.

    I am pregnant and plan on breast feeding as long as possible – but I don’t know if I believe those stats — how many people were involved in calculating those numbers? Up until what age were they followed? I didn’t get celiac until I was 16 years old.

    Thanks though….. GF food for thought.

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