Gluten-free diets have been increasing in popularity for years, but new work from researchers at Harvard suggests it may be best to know that a gluten-free diet is medically necessary before opting to conform to one. Scientists have found that gluten-free diets might be increasing the risk that a person will develop type 2 diabetes. The work was presented at the American Heart Association's Epidemiology and Prevention/Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health 2017 Scientific Sessions, and is described in the following video.
Gluten, a general name for the natural proteins found in grains like wheat, rye and barley acts as a sort of glue, lending pliability, elasticity and structure to baked goods and breads. An intolerance to gluten is one symptom of celiac disease, and gluten can trigger several diseases like dermatitis herpetiformis. In diabetes type 1, a link has also been established in gluten sensitivity.
People have understandably become concerned about reducing or even eliminating gluten from their diets, and it has gotten easier to find gluten-free food. However, research has indicated that people that don't have celiac disease do not experience any health benefit from reducing gluten consumption. Researchers wanted to go further and see if there were actually adverse results from such a diet in people that didn't need it.
"We wanted to determine if gluten consumption will affect health in people with no apparent medical reasons to avoid gluten," explained Geng Zong, a research fellow in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard University's T.H. Chan School of Public Health. "Gluten-free foods often have less dietary fiber and other micronutrients [vitamins and minerals], making them less nutritious and they also tend to cost more. People without Celiac disease may reconsider limiting their gluten intake for chronic disease prevention, especially for diabetes."
The work looked at other massive studies and compiled the findings; the results came from an analysis of 4.24 million people followed from 1984-90 to 2010-13. It was found that the majority of the participants were consuming less than 12 grams of gluten in any given day, and inside of that group, those that consumed the most gluten also had a lower risk of type 2 diabetes development over the 30 years of follow-up study.
The researchers also saw that those that ate less gluten also tended to eat less cereal fiber; cereal fire is known to protect against the development of type 2 diabetes. Among study participants that were categorized within the highest 20 percent of daily gluten consumption, there was a 13 percent reduction in the risk of developing type 2 diabetes when compared to participants that were categorized in the lowest amount of daily gluten consumption.
While there are not solid cause and effect relationships established in this work, it does appear that unnecessary reductions in gluten intake may lead to a greater risk of poor health outcomes.