Beneficial Effects of Breast Milk on Intestinal Bacteria in Infants at Risk for Celiac Disease


Celiac Disease (CD) is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the small intestine.  Signs and symptoms occur with the consumption of gluten.  Gluten is a protein found in many grains, cereals, and breads.  Gluten consumption can lead to severe damage to the intestinal wall and malabsorption in CD patients. Currently, a strict gluten-free diet is the only available treatment for this disorder.


To gain a better understanding of the relationship between intestinal bacteria make up and its influence on CD risk.  Breast milk feeding is an area of interest because it has been observed to play a protective effect against the risk of CD development in infants.


164 healthy newborn infants with immediate relatives diagnosed with CD.  Researchers determined and categorized the infants at genetic risk of CD by testing for the human leukocyte antigen (HLA-DQ) genes.


Infants in this study were grouped based on age, genetic risk, and type of feeding.  Genetic risk was determined using cheek swab tests that examined for the presence of the HLA-DQ gene.  Groups were further divided according to the duration of the feeding.  Stool samples of the subjects were collected at 7 days, 1 month, and 4 months following birth.


Breast milk and formula milk feedings result in the different bacterial development in newborn intestine.  The study showed that all formula fed infants are predisposed to a group of bacteria that are also found higher in infants with increased genetic risk of developing CD.  Breast milk fed infants demonstrated lower counts of this group of bacteria, suggesting that breast milk may play a protective role in the development of CD.


To date, there is limited evidence that the type of bacteria present in the intestine is directly related to the development of CD in individuals with HLA-DQ genes.


Breast feeding infants may prevent the development of CD in infants, especially in those with high genetic risk of developing CD.


The full report is titled “Influence of Milk-Feeding Type and Genetic Risk of Developing Coeliac Disease on Intestinal Microbiota of Infants: The PROFICEL STUDY.”It is in the February 2012 of the PLoS ONE journal [volume 7, e30791].  The authors are G.D Palma, A. Capilla, E. Nova, G. Castillejo, V. Varea, T. Pozo, J.A. Garrote, I. Polanco, A. Lopez, C. Ribes-Koninckx, A. Marcos, M.D. Garcia-Novo, C. Calvo, L. Ortigosa, L. Pena-Quintana, F. Palau, and Y. Sanz.


Written by Joanna Chin and Mi Na Lee,
Dept. Nutritional Sciences, Rutgers University-NewBrunswick
Edited by SA Shapses, PhD, RD