Antibiotics in Infants Linked with Celiac Risk

Newborns exposed to antibiotics during their first year have a 26 percent higher risk for celiac disease, according to new research.

“The gut microbiota in early life is highly influenced by antibiotics,” says Stine Dydensborg Sander, PhD, of Odense University Hospital, Denmark, lead author of the study. Her findings support growing evidence that composition of the gut bacteria in early life affects the immune system and risk for celiac.

“To develop celiac disease you need to be genetically predisposed and to eat gluten. However, about 40 percent of the western population carry the genes predisposing for celiac disease, most are eating gluten, but only a few develop celiac disease. We do not know why some people develop celiac disease or what protects some people from developing celiac disease. We know that the prevalence of celiac disease has increased but we do not know why,” says Dydensborg Sander.

The research included all children born in Denmark from 1995 to 2012 and in Norway from 2004 to 2012 who had medical information available. Out of 1.7 million individuals, 3,346 were later diagnosed with celiac.

It was the largest study so far of antibiotics and celiac risk in children. Both country’s populations showed the association. Risk increased with how many antibiotic treatments a child received.

The study also compared antibiotic types and age at exposure within the first year but found no effects. The authors investigated what the paper calls, “parental health-seeking behavior,” that might influence antibiotic use and celiac diagnosis but concluded it was unlikely to skew results.


“This study does not show that antibiotics cause celiac disease in the individual child,” says Dydensborg Sander. “Use of antibiotics should always be carefully considered in consultation with your doctor; there are many important considerations to take. The risk of celiac disease is not something that needs to be addressed specifically in these considerations.”

It is too early to conclude how various risk factors affect the microbiome, she adds. However, further study may suggest opportunities for preventing celiac.

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