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Researchers Ask Whether Celiac Is Related to Season of Birth

A number of new studies are examining the question of whether the season in which a baby is born is a determinant for his or her risk of developing celiac disease, a digestive disorder in which the body cannot tolerate gluten, the protein found in wheat and other grains. The New York Times reports on the growing—but not yet complete—body of research:

Some researchers suspect that babies born in spring and summer are more susceptible to the disease, which is triggered by the gluten in wheat, barley and rye.

Babies usually begin eating foods containing gluten around 6 months of age, so those born in the warmer months would initially be exposed to gluten in the winter, when infections like cold and flu are common. Could early exposure to viral infections play a role in the autoimmune response to gluten?

For now that remains speculation. But at least three studies have backed the seasonal hypothesis. The most recent, published this month in The Journal of Pediatrics, looked at nearly 2,000 people with confirmed celiac disease. The researchers, at the Massachusetts General Hospital for Children, concluded that more patients were born in the spring than in any other season.

Image: Baby eating cereal, via Shutterstock