press information / news

Epidemiology
20.06.2017

Infections in Early Life Associated with Increased Risk for Celiac Disease

Infections during infancy are associated with increased risk for gluten intolerance (celiac disease) later on. Apparently the risk is particularly high in the case of repeated gastrointestinal infections in the first year of life. This conclusion was drawn by scientists of the Institute for Diabetes Research at Helmholtz Zentrum München, a partner in the German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD), after analyzing data provided by the Bavarian Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians. Results from this study have now been published in the current issue of the ‘American Journal of Epidemiology’.

Bread and grain

Infections during infancy are associated with increased risk for gluten intolerance (celiac disease) later on. Source: Fotolia/Erwin Wodicka

In previous publications, a team of scientists led by Professor Anette-Gabriele Ziegler had already demonstrated an association between infections in early childhood and the development of type 1 diabetes. The highest risk for type 1 diabetes was observed in children with repeated respiratory infections in the first six months of life.

The current study showed that the risk of developing celiac disease is particularly high when gastrointestinal tract infections occur during the first year of life. To a lesser extent, an increased risk of disease was also demonstrated in connection with early respiratory tract infections. “Our data do not allow a conclusion whether the observed associations are causal or are based on changes in the microbiome or specific immune responses”, said first author Dr. Andreas Beyerlein, commenting on the results. “However, it seems that the increased risk of celiac disease is associated with a permanent inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract in early childhood and is not caused by a specific viral or bacterial pathogen.”

The scientists analyzed fully anonymized data provided by the Bavarian Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (Kassenärztliche Vereinigung Bayern) of 295,420 children who were born between 2005 and 2007. Medically attended infections from birth until a median age of 8.5 years were considered in the analysis. A total of 853 children developed gluten intolerance, equivalent to 0.3 percent.

Further Information

Original Publication:
Beyerlein, A. et al. (2017): Infections in early life and development of celiac disease, American Journal of Epidemiology, DOI: 10.1093/aje/kwx190

Supporting Publications:
Beyerlein, A. et al. (2016): Infections in early life and development of type 1 diabetes, JAMA, DOI: 10.1001/jama.2016. 2181

Beyerlein, A. et al. (2013): Respiratory Infections in Early Life and the Development of Islet Autoimmunity in Children at Increased Type 1 Diabetes Risk, JAMA Pediatrics, DOI:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.158


As German Research Center for Environmental Health, Helmholtz Zentrum München pursues the goal of developing personalized medical approaches for the prevention and therapy of major common diseases such as diabetes mellitus and lung diseases. To achieve this, it investigates the interaction of genetics, environmental factors and lifestyle. The Helmholtz Zentrum München has about 2,300 staff members and is headquartered in Neuherberg in the north of Munich. Helmholtz Zentrum München is a member of the Helmholtz Association, a community of 18 scientific-technical and medical-biological research centers with a total of about 37,000 staff members. 

The Institute of Diabetes Research (IDF) focuses on the pathogenesis and prevention of type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes and the long-term effects of gestational diabetes. A major project is the development of an insulin vaccination against type 1 diabetes. The IDF conducts long-term studies to examine the link between genes, environmental factors and the immune system for the pathogenesis of type 1 diabetes. Findings of the BABYDIAB study, which was established in 1989 as the world’s first prospective birth cohort study, identified risk genes and antibody profiles. These permit predictions to be made about the pathogenesis and onset of type 1 diabetes and will lead to changes in the classification and the time of diagnosis. The IDF is part of the Helmholtz Diabetes Center (HDC). 

The German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD) is a national association that brings together experts in the field of diabetes research and combines basic research, translational research, epidemiology and clinical applications. The aim is to develop novel strategies for personalized prevention and treatment of diabetes. Members are Helmholtz Zentrum München – German Research Center for Environmental Health, the German Diabetes Center in Düsseldorf, the German Institute of Human Nutrition in Potsdam-Rehbrücke, the Paul Langerhans Institute Dresden of the Helmholtz Zentrum München at the University Medical Center Carl Gustav Carus of the TU Dresden and the Institute for Diabetes Research and Metabolic Diseases of the Helmholtz Zentrum München at the Eberhard-Karls-University of Tuebingen together with associated partners at the Universities in Heidelberg, Cologne, Leipzig, Lübeck and Munich.