Gluten-Free Food Linked To Increased Exposure To Toxic Metals Like Mercury And Arsenic


Many individuals jump into the gluten-free lifestyle bandwagon with the idea that consuming food stripped of gluten is healthier. Findings of a new study, however, show that gluten-free food may have higher levels of toxic metals, hinting that the health trend may not be that healthy at all.

In a new study published in the journal Epidemiology, researchers found that people who eat gluten-free food may be at increased risk of exposing themselves to high levels of arsenic and mercury, toxic metals known to contribute to the development of cancer, cardiovascular disease and neurological conditions.

Celiac Disease And Gluten

People with celiac disease need to avoid food with gluten, proteins present in wheat, barley, grain, and rye, which can damage the lining of their small intestine and prevent nutrients from being absorbed by their body.

Less than 1 percent of Americans have celiac disease, but in recent years, many people who do not suffer from the autoimmune disorder have also turned to gluten-free food, thinking that this is a healthier option.

In 2015, a quarter of Americans claim eating gluten-free food marking a 67 percent increase from numbers recorded in 2013. Gluten-free diet has become so popular food chains started to offer gluten-free products for their customers.

Some claim they prefer to eat gluten-free diet because this helps reduce inflammation, which to date has not been proven by scientific studies. Some individuals shun gluten from their diet, believing that this can help them lose weight.

Metals In Gluten-Free Food

Gluten-free products usually use rice flour as a substitute for wheat. Rice tends to bioaccumulate certain toxic metals such as mercury and arsenic from fertilizers, water, or soil.

Maria Argos, from University of Illinois at Chicago, and colleagues used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to search for a link between gluten-free diet and the biomarkers of toxic metals in urine and blood. They eventually found 73 individuals who ate a gluten-free diet among nearly 7,500 participants who completed the survey.

The researchers found that the participants who ate gluten-free food were likely to have higher concentrations of arsenic in their urine as well as higher level of mercury in their blood compared with those who were not into gluten-free lifestyle. Mercury levels in those who consumed gluten-free food were 70 percent higher than those with normal diet. The arsenic levels in those who avoid gluten were likewise twice as high compared with those with normal diet.

"These results indicate that there could be unintended consequences of eating a gluten-free diet," Argos said.

The researchers, however, noted that further studies are still needed to determine if the diet indeed poses significant health risk.

The study, though, is not the first time that researchers raised concern about the health impact of following a gluten-free diet. Despite claimed benefits of gluten-free diet, experts do not recommend it for healthy individuals, particularly kids, who may become vitamin deficient and suffer from lack of fiber in their diet as a result of eating gluten-free food.

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