America’s love affair with gluten-free foods may come at a cost: greater intake of the toxic metals arsenic and mercury, a new study contends.
“These results indicate that there could be unintended consequences of eating a gluten-free diet,” said study author Maria Argos of the University of Illinois at Chicago(UIC).
Gluten-free products often contain rice flour as a substitute for wheat, rye and barley. And rice is known to accumulate arsenic and mercury from fertilizers, soil and water, said Argos, an assistant professor epidemiology in the School of Public Health.
For the study, the researchers analyzed the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data from thousands of Americans, aged 6 to 80. The investigators identified 73 people who said they ate a gluten-free diet.
Compared to other survey participants, those who ate gluten-free diets and nearly twice the levels of arsenic in their urine, and 70% higher levels of mercury in their blood, according to the study.
However, “more research is needed before we can determine whether this diet poses a significant health risk,” Argos said in a university news release.
Gluten-free diets are recommended for people with celiac disease – an out-of-control immune response to gluten, a protein in wheat, rye and barley.
Just 1% of Americans have been diagnosed with the disorder, but nearly one-quarter of Americans reported eating a gluten-free diet in 2015, the researchers noted.
Many consumers believe gluten-free eating reduces harmful inflammation, but there is no scientific evidence supporting that, the study authors said.
Arsenic and mercury, which occur naturally in the environment, raise the risk of heart disease, cancer and neurological problems at certain levels, the researchers said.
The study results were published online recently in the journal Epidemiology.
There are 517 studies listed on PubMed related to gluten and inflammation. Contrary to what the study authors said, there is overwhelming evidence to support the reduction of systemic and gut inflammation with a gluten-free diet.
Everyone reacts to gluten, obviously some more than others. The problem is the constant, high levels of exposure to gluten. The gluten content in wheat has increased more than 400% since the early ‘60s. And no, that’s not from GMO, but from hybridization, long before GMO existed.
But eating “gluten-free” is not really a diet. That’s just eliminating one harmful protein from your diet. By those standards my daughter is on the “fish-free” diet and I follow the “black olive-free” diet.
The real problem here is replacing the grains wheat, barley and rye with another grain – rice. Grains are a cheap source of calories, but they are not very nutrient dense. They contain little in the way of vitamins and minerals.
If you follow the Paleo diet, then you are grain-free, including all gluten. But you don’t have to go that far. Just eliminate the processed foods. Stick to single ingredient foods. So, eat a tomato rather than ketchup. Have a serving of meat, fish, or poultry rather than a protein shake. This way you will avoid most of the chemical additives that also can cause inflammation.
The Bottom Line:
A diet is not just the elimination of a particular food or protein, but a conscious plan to improve the quality of foods you are eating. When I review a patient’s food journal, I don’t just look at what they are not eating, but what they do eat.
Source: February 16, 2017 National Institutes of Health