You Shouldn’t Go Gluten-Free Unless You Have Celiac Disease, According to a Study

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Those with celiac disease often follow strict gluten-free diets, because consuming the protein found in wheat, rye, and barley can cause them to develop health problems and gastrointestinal issues. And yet, certain people seeking to lose weight have hopped on the gluten-free train as well, assuming that it will help them consume fewer calories and lead healthier lives. But now, a new study cautions that cutting out gluten unless you have to may actually be a bad idea for your health.

Published in the BMJ on Tuesday, a new study found that restricting gluten can have harmful health effects on people who don’t suffer from celiac disease. That’s because, according to researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, going gluten-free means a person reduces their intake of whole grains, which are known to have cardiovascular health benefits. So, cutting out gluten unless medically necessary can potentially increase a person’s risk of heart problems.

“As such, the researchers say the promotion of gluten-free diets among people without celiac disease should not be encouraged,” the study authors wrote.

For the study, scientists analyzed data from 64,714 women and 45,303 men working in the health industry, each of whom had no history of coronary heart disease. The participants filled out a detailed food questionnaire in 1986, and updated it every four years through 2010. The researchers saw no “significant” association between gluten intake and heart-disease risk, but they did note that people who restricted gluten in their diets also “significantly limit their intake of whole grains, which may actually be associated with adverse cardiovascular outcomes.”

Despite the fact that the findings merely add fuel to the mounting evidence that cutting out gluten unless you have to is a bad idea, going gluten-free as a weight-loss solution is still quite popular, the scientists note. As such, a September paper in JAMA Internal Medicine found that more people have been going gluten-free, despite a lack of medical need to do so. As of 2014, the number of people in the U.S. following a gluten-free diet tripled, while celiac-disease rates remained relatively stable.

The study authors noted that the study was observational, so further research is needed before anyone draws firm conclusions about gluten’s relationship with heart disease.

Don’t Go Gluten-Free Unless You Have Celiac Disease: Study