A study, published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics, has found that early introduction of high doses of gluten could prevent celiac disease in children.

Researchers at King’s College London, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, St George’s, University of London, and Benaroya Research Institute, Seattle, have suggested that introducing a high-dose gluten diet early in infanthood could be an effective prevention strategy for celiac disease.

However, they said more studies are needed before practically using this preventive strategy.

Celiac disease is one of the autoimmune diseases in which eating gluten causes the immune system to attack its own tissues. Currently, there are no preventive strategies to prevent the disease and treatment involves complete exclusion of gluten from the diet.

In people with celiac disease, eating even a small amount of gluten could cause damage to the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, prevent food absorption of food, resulting in symptoms such as abdominal bloating, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, and fatigue.

The study investigated the effects of gluten along with breastfeeding in children aged four months. Kids in the study received 4g of wheat protein a week, in the form of cereal biscuits.

More than 1000 children were examined for antitransglutanimase antibodies, a potential indicator of coeliac disease, after almost three years. Children who had raised antibody levels were referred to a specialist for further testing.

The researchers found that children who received gluten later after six months of age had a higher prevalence of celiac disease at three years of age. On the other hand, children who were given gluten early from four months of age were found to have no celiac disease.

Lead author Prof. Gideon Lack of King’s College London said, “This is the first study that provides evidence that early introduction of significant amounts of wheat into a baby’s diet before six months of age may prevent the development of coeliac disease.”

“This strategy may also have implications for other autoimmune diseases such as Type 1 diabetes,” he added. Study author Dr. Kirsty Logan of King’s College London said, “Early introduction of gluten and its role in the prevention of coeliac disease should be explored further, using the results of the EAT [Enquiring About Tolerance] Study as the basis for larger clinical trials to definitively answer this question.”