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Should people generally avoid gluten?
If people don't have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, eating gluten-containing foods doesn't seem to have any negative effects. So healthy people do not have to do without gluten in their diet.
The University of Sheffield's latest investigation found that foods containing gluten did not have a negative impact on healthy people. The results of the study were published in the English language journal "Gastroenterology".
Healthy people did not experience any typical symptoms
This was the first time that a test was carried out with healthy people without a history of bowel problems (e.g. irritable bowel syndrome), the researchers emphasize. The study should help clarify some of the inconsistent results that have emerged from various studies in recent years.
Is a gluten-free diet beneficial?
Many people adhere to a gluten-free diet, although most people have not been diagnosed with any health problems. These people give various reasons why they eat gluten-free, but mostly well-being is a predominant factor. The benefits of a gluten-free diet are also advertised with reduced disease burden, improved cognitive function, weight loss and a good appearance, the researchers report. However, there is no data to support such ideas. In fact, large prospective cohort studies, including the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, have shown no increased risk of cardiovascular disease or the metabolic syndrome from gluten consumption.
How was the study carried out?
In the current study, 28 participants were randomly divided into two groups over two weeks. These people were asked to eat gluten-free and to take a dose of flour twice a day, which was either 14 grams of gluten or completely gluten-free. To measure changes in abdominal pain, reflux, indigestion, diarrhea and constipation, evaluation scales were created for all participants before and after the two-week test. The research group explained that their feelings of fatigue were measured on a visual analog scale.
Healthy people were not adversely affected
Ultimately, independent analyzes between the randomized groups showed no significant differences between healthy patients in terms of symptoms, including abdominal pain. Overall, only one healthy person who consumed gluten reported diarrhea. The researchers argued that this was probably abnormal. This suggests that avoiding gluten is of no use to the average healthy person.
Gluten can cause serious illnesses in sick people
In contrast, people with diagnosable gluten-related problems can have serious problems if they eat the wrong foods. For example, a study of participants with non-celiac gluten sensitivity found that more than 90 percent of people had a clinical relapse while on gluten. In people with celiac disease, gluten can destroy the lining of the small intestine, and if the damage gets too big, it can even lead to osteoporosis, infertility, nerve damage, and seizures. However, such extreme reactions to gluten are rare and occur in less than one percent of the entire US population, the researchers explain. A strict, lifelong gluten-free diet is therefore necessary for this small group of people.
Does a gluten-free diet harm healthy people?
It is questionable whether the new results will dampen the general enthusiasm for a gluten-free diet. The researchers report that although there are also indications that a gluten-free diet can do more harm than good. Previous surveys have shown that people with celiac disease do not consume enough calcium, iron, fiber, folic acid and thiamine. Another study found that people with lower gluten intake were at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. (as)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
- Iain David Croall, Imran Aziz, Nick Trott, Paola Tosi, Nigel Hoggard, David S. Sanders: Gluten Does Not Induce Gastrointestinal Symptoms in Healthy Volunteers: A Double-Blind Randomized Placebo Trial, in Gastroenterology (query: August 30, 2019), Gastroenterology