New research suggests that events in the first 18 months of life can affect whether a child develops celiac disease.
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The amount of people diagnosed with celiac disease—a digestive disorder triggered by gluten—has increased substantially in recent decades. It's estimated that 1 percent of the population in Western countries has the autoimmune disease, but if and when symptoms appear tends to vary by individual, though doctors aren't sure why.

A new study by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health suggests that individuals who have infections frequently during their first 18 months of life may be slightly more likely to develop the disease than children with fewer infections.

The research, published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, followed nearly 73,000 children born between 2000 and 2009 in Norway. Conclusions were drawn from parent-reported data that was collected multiple times during the child's first 18 months.

When researchers followed up with participants almost nine years later, it was found that 581—or less than 1 percent—of the children had developed celiac disease.

Children who had 10 or more infections during their first 18 months, though, had about a 30 percent greater chance of developing celiac disease than those who had fewer than five infections.

It was noted that it is unclear whether the association between the development of celiac disease is a direct outcome of the infections, or if perhaps hospitalizations due to these infections lead to increased screening.

"We think there are many pieces to the puzzle that must fit together for someone to develop celiac disease, where heredity, gluten intake, and possibly many other environmental factors are important," said lead author Karl Marild, M.D., in the study's news release. "Perhaps having frequent infections in early life influences the immune system so that it is subsequently more likely to react to gluten."

Caitlin St John is an Editorial Assistant for who splits her time between New York City and her hometown on Long Island. Follow her on Twitter: @CAITYstjohn.