NEW YORK (CNN) – Bad news for lovers of bread, pasta and pastries: Eating lots of gluten-heavy foods from a young age can eventually lead to gluten intolerance.
A study published Tuesday in the journal JAMA suggests that eating higher than normal levels of gluten during the first five years of life can increase children's likelihood of developing celiac disease, a digestive disorder that damages the small intestine.
Higher gluten intake was associated with a 6.1% increased risk of autoimmunity in celiac disease, an immunological response to gluten and a 7.2% increased risk of celiac disease per extra gram or gluten per day, according to the study.
Researchers evaluated more than 6,600 newborns in the United States, Finland, Germany, and Sweden born between 2004 and 201
Every few months, the study's author recorded the children's gluten intake up to the age of 5 and compared the levels with reference amounts of gluten intake in healthy children at each age.
During the course of the study, 1,216 of the children – almost 20% – developed celiac autoimmunity, the first sign of the body's negative response to the protein, says study author Carin Andrén Aronsson, study director at the unit for diabetes and celiac disease at Lund University.
Another 450 participants developed celiac disease, about 7%. Most of the diagnoses occurred between 2 and 3 years, according to the study.
In people diagnosed with celiac disease, gluten eats damage to the small intestine and prevents nutrient absorption. It is estimated to affect about 1 in 100 people worldwide, and more than 2 million people may not even know they have it, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation.
Gluten intake is considered to be a factor in developing celiac disease, but according to Tuesday's study, quantity also plays an important role.
Gluten-free foods are becoming increasingly popular, even for those without gluten intolerance. Since the 1940s, the diet has been touted as a way to reduce bloating and lose weight, although nutritionists today do not necessarily support these claims.
When dieters cut out gluten, they sometimes risk nutritional problems. Gluten-free products often replace gluten-free ingredients with things like tapioca and white rice flour, which often contain higher amounts of calories, sugar and fat than gluten, dietitian Julie Stefanski told CNN 2018.
Gluten products can also contain a lot of fiber. and fortified with vitamins and iron, so eliminating the source of these nutrients can cause digestive problems for those without celiac disease, she said.
Digging gluten completely is the only way to manage celiac disease, according to the University of Chicago's Celiac Disease Center. Aronsson recommends that parents of young children with the gene temper their level of gluten consumption to prevent the onset.
Still, she said, there is no known "safe limit" for gluten for children carrying the celiac genotype.  The-CNN-Wire ™ & © 2018 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner company. All rights reserved.