There may be a link between a woman's gluten sensitivity and the risk of her baby developing psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia later on, according to a new study.
Researchers from the Karolinska Institute and Johns Hopkins Children’s Center conducted research that suggests children of women with high levels of antibodies to gluten -- meaning they had sensitivity to it -- have almost a doubled risk of later developing a psychiatric disorder.
"Our research not only underscores the importance of maternal nutrition during pregnancy and its lifelong effects on the offspring, but also suggests one potential cheap and easy way to reduce risk if we were to find further proof that gluten sensitivity exacerbates or drives up schizophrenia risk," study researcher Dr. Hakan Karlsson, M.D., Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Karolinska Institute, said in a statement.
The study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, included analysis of 764 neonatal blood samples and birth records of people born between 1975 and 1985 in Sweden. Of those people, 211 went on to develop schizophrenia or a similar psychiatric disorder.
The researchers were able to use the blood samples to see whether the study participants had higher levels of IgG antibodies triggered by the immune system as a response to milk or wheat proteins in the body.
"Because a mother’s antibodies cross the placenta during pregnancy to confer immunity to the baby, a newborn's elevated IgG levels are proof of protein sensitivity in the mother," the study statement said.
The researchers found that the association held true even after taking into account other risk factors for schizophrenia including the mother's age and how the baby was delivered. The researchers didn't find a link between children's schizophrenia risk and women who had high levels of antibodies to milk proteins.
However, researchers made sure to note that the study merely found a connection -- not a causal relationship -- between mothers' gluten sensitivity and their children's schizophrenia risk.
The researchers also pointed out that past observational studies have suggested a link between gluten sensitivity and schizophrenia, noting that in World War II when there was scarcity in wheat in Europeans' diets, there was also a lower rate of people being admitted to the hospital because of schizophrenia. In addition, they noted other research suggesting that rates of celiac disease are higher among people with schizophrenia.
According to the Mayo Clinic, possible risk factors for schizophrenia include having a family history of the disease, having an old paternal age, being exposed to viruses or toxins while in the womb, use of psychoactive drugs during teenage and young adult years, and being exposed to extremely stressful situations.
There is no known cause for schizophrenia, though researchers think that it has to do with both genetics and environmental factors, according to the Mayo Clinic.