If you have not been diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, a rigorous new study shows that eating gluten-rich foods does you no harm and avoiding these proteins in your diet is unnecessary.
In the first randomized controlled double-blind trial, one of the most reliable tests we have today, healthy volunteers who ate gluten-containing flour did not report gastrointestinal symptoms or fatigue.
It is the first test reliant on healthy subjects without a history of bowel problems (such as irritable bowel syndrome), and it helps to elucidate some of the inconsistent results that have emerged in recent years.
Today in the US Three million people are eating gluten-free, although 82 percent have not been diagnosed with any health problems that would require a lifestyle change. People give many reasons why they are gluten-free, but "well-being" is usually a prevalent factor.
According to American market research, 65 percent of the population consider gluten-free diets to be generally healthier. The new research questions this widespread assumption as well as numerous other studies.
"The benefits of [gluten free diet] are also being sold on the basis of reduced disease burden, improved cognitive function, weight loss, and good looks," write Gastroenterologists Emma Halmos and Peter Gibson of Monash University in an editorial accompanying the study ,
"There is a lack of data to substantiate such ideas, and indeed, large prospective cohort studies, including the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, have shown no risk for gluten to cardiovascular disease or the metabolic syndrome. "
The study is small and brief, but its method is strictly controlled and carefully adjusted for distortion. For two weeks, 28 random volunteers were asked to eat a gluten-free diet twice daily for a dose of flour that was either 1
To measure changes in their abdominal pain, reflux, indigestion, diarrhea, and constipation, each participant completed a series of symptom scores before and after the two-week test. Her feelings of fatigue were measured using a visual analogue scale.
Finally, independent analyzes between the randomized groups showed no significant differences between healthy patients in terms of symptoms, including abdominal pain. Overall, only one healthy person who ate gluten reported diarrhea, and the authors claim this is likely to be abnormal.
This suggests that avoiding gluten does not bring benefits to an average healthy person.
In contrast, people with diagnosable gluten-related problems may have serious problems. For example, a double-blind randomized controlled trial in patients with non-celiac gluten sensitivity found that more than 90 percent of patients had clinical relapse during their gluten exposure.
In patients with celiac disease, gluten can actually destroy the lining of the small intestine, and if the damage becomes too great, it can lead to osteoporosis, infertility, nerve damage and seizures.
However, such extreme reactions to gluten are quite rare and occur in less than one percent of the total US population. A strict, lifelong gluten-free diet is therefore required for this small group of people, but the new research suggests that this is not true for anyone.
"The big question is whether these results will dampen the enthusiasm for using a gluten-free diet in public," Halmos and Gibsen write, adding that scientifically-based findings have so far had little impact on gluten beliefs.
There is even evidence that gluten-free diets can do more harm than good. Previous surveys have shown that celiac sufferers do not consume enough calcium, iron, fiber, folic acid and thiamine. Another study found that people with lower gluten intake have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes diagnosable sensitivity.
The study was published in Gastroenterology .