If women eat a high-fiber diet during pregnancy, their child may be at lower risk of celiac disease, a new study suggests.
Celiac disease causes gluten intolerance, in which the immune system mis-identifies gluten from wheat, barley and rye as a pathogen and tries to fight the small intestine, causing diarrhea and other gastrointestinal problems.
About one percent of the population has the autoimmune disease – and it’s seen a steep rise in recent years.
But by eating plenty of broccoli, beans, fruits, potatoes and other high-fiber foods while carrying a baby, a woman may be able to help protect her child from developing celiac disease, a Norwegian study suggests.
Researcher at the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) found that for every 10g more fiber women ate each day, their children’s risks for celiac disease declined by eight percent.
Not only does celiac disease mean those who develop it will have to spend the rest of their lives dodging bread, pasta and anything with wheat flour to prevent diarrhea and gas, they may e at higher risk of lymphoma or bowel cancer.
There’s no cure for celiac disease. It can be managed by eating a gluten free diet, but any bit of wheat or barley could trigger the symptoms of celiac.
And it’s become a more common phenomenon in recent years.
Researchers suspect the autoimmune disease is in part genetic and in part environmental.
Most people that have celiac disease have at least one family member suffering from it too.
But lifestyle and environment factors – including what happens while a baby is developing in its mothers womb – likely influence the odds of celiac disease, too.
A pregnant mother’s diet can have profound effects on their developing baby’s health throughout his or her whole life.
A poor diet, high in fatty and processed foods, may increase risks that the developing child will be obese and have high blood pressure and cholesterol.
Balanced diets with plenty of fruits vegetables and whole foods will help the baby’s brain development along, improving cognition and memory.
And one that’s high in fiber appears to protect against celiac disease.
The ESPGHAN researchers analyzed data on 88,000 children born in the decade between 1999 and 2009.
They found that women who reported eating more than 45 grams of fiber a day while they were pregnant were 34 percent less likely to have a child with celiac disease than women in the lowest category for fiber consumption.
Interestingly, this protective effect was more dramatic for children whose who got their daily dose of fiber by eating whole fruits and vegetables.
Those who ate cereal to stock up on fiber didn’t garner the same benefit for their children.
And eating a gluten-free diet did nothing to prevent women’s babies from developing celiac disease later on.
In line with other recent research, the scientists suspect that celiac disease and other autoimmune conditions are closely linked to a person’s gut microbiome.
In mother and developing baby, what the mother eats helps shapes the baby’s gut flora.
The more fiber someone eats, the more likely they are to have diverse gut flora. And the more diverse a person’s gut flora is, the stronger their immune system will be, which may help to limit their risks of autoimmune disorders like celiac disease.
And the new study could suggest that mothers can impart the same strength to their babies during the nine month gestation period.
‘Currently, there is very limited data on the association between maternal fibre or gluten intake during pregnancy and the risk of celiac disease in children,’ said Dr Ketil Størdal, lead study author.
‘As this is the first study on maternal fiber intake, we cannot yet recommend any specific dietary measures during pregnancy to prevent celiac disease and this needs to be further studied but we are currently assessing whether maternal fiber intake could impact on children’s gut flora.
‘This is one of the potential ways in which these findings can be explained.’