Children Born In Warm Areas Or Season Are At Risk Of Celiac Disease

First Posted: Aug 17, 2016 06:10 AM EDT

A new study has revealed that where and when a child is born may influence their risk for getting celiac disease. The study found that winter babies and those people born in places with shorter  days and less sunlight are at a lower risk of developing celiac disease compared to those born in warmer areas and seasons.

According to Reuters, approximately one in a hundred people are affected with celiac disease. It is an autoimmune disorder that affects the small intestines and interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food. People with celiac disease are not able to tolerate gluten which is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. If the condition is left untreated, it can lead to different complications such as malnutrition, low bone density, lactose intolerance and infertility.

While the exact causes of celiac disease are still unknown, some past research has directed experts to the potential for the season of one's birth to be among many environmental factors that might influence the risk, according to lead study author Fredinah Namatovu, a public health researcher at the Umea University in Sweden. "Season of birth and area of birth appears to play a role," Namatovu said by email. "Season and region of birth could be a proxy for other factors such as vitamin D and viral infections," he added.

For the study, researchers studied data of almost 2 million children born in Sweden between 1991 and 2009. Among those, approximately 6,600 were diagnosed with the disease before they turned 15 years old. Results showed that children born in spring (March-May), summer (June-August) and fall (September-November) were about 10 percent more likely to be diagnosed with celiac disease compared to those who were born in winter (December-February).

However, researchers found that seasonal-related risk differ by region. Children born in the south of Sweden, where the sunlight is intense in spring and summer, had a higher risk of having the disease compared to those born in the northern part of the country, where it is much colder in springs and has shorter summers, reported. Another surprising discovery researchers found was that children diagnosed of the disease before age 2 were more at risk for the disease if they were born in spring, but those who were diagnosed older were at increased risk if they were born in summer or autumn, study authors said. The study also explained that the risk of celiac disease was consistently higher in girls than in boys.

Although the study found a connection between region and season of birth and the development of celiac disease, Science Daily reported authors saying there is still no firm conclusion that can be drawn about its cause and effect relationship. Researchers were also not able to collect information on possible influential risk factors like infections and the status of Vitamin D.

Meanwhile, Fredinah Namatovu had several possible explanations for the findings.  He said, "One hypothesis for increased [celiac disease] risk and spring/summer birth is that those infants are more likely to be weaned and introduced to gluten during autumn/winter, a time characterized by exposure to seasonal viral infections." As many may have already known, viral infection can trigger changes in the intestines which could later lead to the development of celiac disease. Another possibility that can be considered is that low levels of vitamin D in pregnant women affect development of the fetal immune system. And as everybody knows, sunlight is a major source of vitamin D.

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