According to a new research published recently in the online issue of the journal Epidemiology, the levels of exposure to toxic metals increases drastically in Americans who embrace gluten-free diets. Hence, keeping away from wheat or other sources of gluten draws gluten-free individuals closer to greater intake of toxic metals including mercury and arsenic, say researchers.
“These results indicate that there could be unintended consequences of eating a gluten-free diet”, said University of Illinois’ Maria Argos, assistant professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health.
In order to compensate, gluten-free products oftentimes contain rice flour as a substitute for barley, rye, and wheat. However, scientists say rice has already been known to act like some sort of a sponge, accumulating mercury and arsenic from water, soil, or fertilizers.
For their trials, the investigators looked at survey data collected by the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination of Americans with ages between 6 to 80. Out of the thousands of test subjects, the researchers positively identified a sample of 73 people with gluten intolerance and based their meals on a gluten-free diet.
Compared to other survey participants who did not follow in their footsteps, those who relied on a gluten-free diet had 70 percent higher levels of mercury in their system and almost twice the levels of arsenic in their urine, revealed the scientists.
Even so, the researchers say that more work is to be done in order to accurately determine whether such a diet really poses a significant health risk, said Maria Argos in a university news release.
Physicians recommend gluten-free diets to people suffering from celiac disease characterized by an uncontrollable immune response to gluten. The protein is most commonly found in rye, wheat, and barley. However, while only 1 percent of U.S. citizens reported suffering from celiac disease, almost one-quarter of all Americans made significant changes to their diet and steered away from gluten in 2015, the scientists’ report shows. One possible reason is that many believe keeping clear of the protein reduces harmful inflammation. However, at the moment, no scientific evidence exists to support such claims.
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