Are gluten-free diets harmful for non-coeliacs?

By Judy Buttriss

- Last updated on GMT

Professor Buttriss: ‘Is mainstream adoption supported by the evidence?’
Professor Buttriss: ‘Is mainstream adoption supported by the evidence?’

Related tags: Gluten-free diet, Wheat

Gluten – a protein found in wheat, rye and barley – is recognised to cause well-documented adverse clinical effects in people with coeliac disease.

In these individuals, the gluten triggers inflammation and damage to the lining of the small intestine, and the treatment is strict gluten avoidance.

There is also a less defined entity (non-coeliac gluten sensitivity) for which the biological basis is uncertain.

Gluten-free foods have become trendy

Originally developed specifically for coeliacs, gluten-free foods have become trendy among sections of the wider population, thanks in part to celebrity endorsement.

But is mainstream adoption of gluten-free supported by the evidence?

A paper in The​ BMJ​ advises that promotion of gluten-free diets among people without coeliac disease should not be encouraged because avoidance of gluten may result in reduced consumption of beneficial wholegrains.

Associated with lower cardiovascular risk

These, and wholemeal products made from them, are associated with lower cardiovascular risk.

This advice follows analysis of the link between gluten and heart disease incidence in 100,000 American health professionals over 25 years.

The finding suggests a need for caution and more research to check whether the relationship can be replicated.

  • Judy Buttriss is director general of the British Nutrition Foundation

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2 comments

gluten free for non celiacs

Posted by sb,

Sing it sister - you said what all RD's know - it is a medical diet, not for everyone, no health benefits beyond the disease state, etc. Bravo!

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non-beneficial wholegrains

Posted by Anna Jacobs,

For those of us who are now described as non-coeliac gluten sensitives, whole grains are the opposite of beneficial. So severely do they affect me that if inadvertently eaten eg in restaurants which assure me there's no wheat or corn in their food, they give me atrial flutter. This is a 95% correlation of cause and effect, and the only time it was something else, I had pneumonia and was coughing severely. So I wish instead of telling us not to give up wholegrains, scientists would find us some alternatives. I eat as varied and nutritious a diet as I can, given several food intolerances - and take the emergency pill provided by my cardiologist if something in the food inadvertently triggers another episode. To hear some journalists rant on, you'd think I was merely being fussy! I wish!

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