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When To Start Giving Your Kids Gluten

This issue was brought up on a message board in Living Without. One parent felt it appropriate just to wait a couple of years. I would like to offer my opinion.

A parent has a myriad of important decisions to make about raising a child in this complex world. You have to decide where you are going to live, which pre-school and elementary schools to use, vaccine schedule and many more. Just a side note on vaccines. The medical community has yet to do a double-blind study to determine whether vaccines contribute to autism or not. The rate of autism has now reached about 1 in 88 by the age of 8 but medicine is still happy with their suggestive research to declare no link exists between vaccines and autism.

I mention this because it is possible that the current vaccine schedule is having an effect on gluten sensitivity too.

If you are gluten sensitive in any shape or form, that means celiac or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, your kids should not be eating gluten at all in any amount. A nice study was done about 10 years ago with about 3000 first degree relatives of 1000 diagnosed gluten sensitive people. They found that the death rate of these first degree relatives (mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and children) was 2-5 times higher than the general population at every age from whatever people die from if they were eating gluten. This means that if a first degree relative is gluten sensitive, you should consider yourself in the same boat and that means at higher risk for death and disease.

This obviously extends to your children. If you have a gluten problem like about 1/3 of the population, your children will be healthier if they never have it.

This same study reported that gluten sensitive people who adhere to a gluten free lifestyle return to a normal rate of death and disease if they don't allow the damage to become too great.

This is OK news because you don't need gluten-containing grains to live. This is only a matter of convenience.

As far as schools go, you will often need a note from a doctor to back up your request that your child be given a healthier diet. If your child has been gluten free, they will have not an antibody response to gluten in their stool or blood. If one of the parents has a positive gluten antibody profile that is good enough for doctors who are up on the research. If neither parent has a positive gluten lab test, we can still run a genetic profile for the primary gluten genes. We did this for a couple of our grandkids. We learned that one of them has two out of two of the primary celiac genes. Given his history of intestinal issues and this genetic predisposition, writing a doctor's note is easy to justify.

You can always call us at and we will do what we can to get you help with testing and with your school.

Next we need to discuss epigenetics. Epigenetics deals with the environmental effects on the genetic expression. The classic example is agouti mice. Agouti is used to describe the golden color of these particular mice. Agouti mice are of interest to researchers because they easily develop breast cancer and obesity. It was learned that if you give the mom extra folic acid when she is pregnant, that litter of mice is born without the agouti color and without the tendency to develop obesity or breast cancer. The mice are in every way similar to a normal brown mouse.

The question then is how far does this go? Can a mother avoid gluten during her pregnancy and have her baby be resistant to gluten problems regardless of genetic make-up? What if the infant is kept gluten free for a year, two years or ten years? At what point can we let our guard down knowing that those genes will not switch on?

We do not have answers to these questions just yet. It will probably be several decades before we have a real answer. One of the reasons is that in many people the gluten issues don't appear until middle or late adulthood. We might have to wait for 100 years to know.

It is my opinion that part of the reason for the increase in gluten sensitivity is due to these genes being switched on by the exposure to all the chemicals and electromagnetic radiation etc. that are so common today. This puts extra stress on the entire body and some of this stress will change the way genes are expressed. Researchers are studying this phenomenon.

Because the effects of gluten are so widespread and because these effects can be subtle at first with permanent damage coming only after many decades, it seems it would be better to be safe than sorry. Explain all of this to your kids in a way they can understand until they get it.

As mentioned earlier, gluten is not a necessary nutrient. You can learn to live without it.

2021 Epigenetics Update

I wondered about genes for gluten sensitivity not being switched on if the mom was gluten free and if the child didn't have gluten for several years. I talked with my granddaughter recently about this. She is 10 and we talked about a trip to see some cousins. She said she did have some regular dough pizza (read gluten pizza). I asked her how it went. She said she got a really bad stomach ache.

I also think it might have amplified her sugar cravings as that is all she seems to want to eat but that may or may not be related. It is suspicious though.

This is a one case history anecdote but indicates that maybe these genes don't ever really "switch off". If you are looking for a public health or genetic PhD study, here is one idea.