Toxic metal at higher concentrations in gluten-free food?

Posted February 18, 2017

The weighted geometric mean concentration of estimated urinary total arsenic, defined as total arsenic minus arsenobetaine and arsenocholine, was almost two-fold higher for those on a gluten-free diet (geometric mean ratio, 1.9), after adjustment for sociodemographic characteristics and urinary creatinine.

"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 a report published by the scientific journal Epidemiology, researchers found that practitioners of a gluten-free diet may be exposed to increased levels of arsenic and mercury - toxic metals that can lead to cardiovascular disease, neurological problems and cancer, among other things.

Argos notes that although the findings are very important, she and her team need stronger evidence that gluten-free products contain elevated levels of mercury and arsenic.

A new study performed by scientists at the University of IL at Chicago (UIC) found that, as much as people might hail the benefits of gluten free foods, they could be risky too. "We regulate levels of arsenic in water, but if rice flour consumption increases the risk for exposure to arsenic, it would make sense to regulate the metal in foods as well". However, while only 1 percent of US citizens reported suffering from celiac disease, nearly one-quarter of all Americans made significant changes to their diet and steered away from gluten in 2015, the scientists' report shows.

For the study, they took data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey on thousands of Americans aged between 6 and 80.

Many of those who switched to a gluten free diet declared that they did so since they think it might reduce harmful inflammation. This is where the problem is, since rice is known to accumulate arsenic and mercury from soil, water, and fertilizers. These people also had 70% higher levels of mercury. She explained how a gluten free diet which everybody regards as healthy could be bad for our bodies. 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.

A gluten-free diet is a priority for those suffering from Celiac disease.

While Europe has regulations that monitor the level of arsenic in its food, the study points out that the United States has no such restrictions in place.