The pros and cons of going gluten-free

July 16, 2014 by Carolyn Pennington

The number of Americans adopting gluten-free diets has grown dramatically over the past several years. Some avoid eating wheat, barley, and rye because they have an autoimmune disorder called celiac disease, some are sensitive to gluten which can cause stomach upset, and others simply avoid gluten in an effort to lose weight. While many feel the diet has improved their overall health, are there potential downsides to abstaining from gluten?

UConn Today recently discussed going -free with Dr. Haleh Vaziri, gastroenterologist at UConn Health in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. Vaziri is board-certified in internal medicine and gastroenterology and diagnoses and treats a wide range of gastrointestinal issues, including celiac and problems related to food sensitivities.

What is gluten?

Gluten is the portion of the protein component of that forms the structure of dough. It gives dough its sticky and pliable consistency.

What is celiac disease?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune digestive disease with permanent intolerance to gluten in wheat, rye, and barley. In celiac disease, gluten causes damage to the small intestine, and this affects its ability to absorb nutrients.

What are some symptoms of celiac disease?

Abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, anemia, irritability, mouth ulcers, an itchy skin rash.

The number of people suffering from celiac disease or gluten sensitivity seems to be increasing – why is that?

There are different hypotheses: 1) The disease may have been under-diagnosed in the past. 2) Our environment today is much too clean and the human immune system has few things to battle and therefore starts attacking itself. 3) The wheat today may be different than wheat years ago because of hybridization, and therefore elicits an immune response when consumed.

Is there any downside to following a gluten-free diet if you don't have celiac disease or a gluten-sensitivity?

By law, wheat flour must be enriched and fortified whereas other non-wheat flour products are not required to do so. There is no harm in eating gluten-free; however, a gluten-free diet may lack certain nutrients that are found in fortified wheat products, including vitamin B1, B2, B3, and (Iron) Fe.

There is also the possibility of weight gain, if gluten-containing food is replaced with fatty food.

Do you think going gluten-free is just another food fad?

Gluten is only harmful if you have a gluten allergy and/or celiac disease. There are some people who report feeling better on a gluten-free diet without having celiac disease.

Possible reasons for this include 1) a placebo effect; 2) elimination of another food component along with gluten; or 3) a real intolerance of gluten, other than .

Another factor to keep in mind is that the gluten-free is more expensive.

Explore further: Gluten-free diet relieves 'brain fog' in patients with Celiac disease

Related Stories

Gluten-free diet relieves 'brain fog' in patients with Celiac disease

June 16, 2014
Individuals with celiac disease often experience 'brain fog' in addition to intestinal problems, but a new study shows that adhering to a gluten-free diet can lead to improvements in cognition that correlate with the extent ...

Top 5 myths about gluten

June 6, 2014
In the past few years there has been a surge in gluten-free diets and products that claim giving up the protein can lead to healthier lifestyles. A New York Times article recently cited Mintel, a market research company, ...

FDA defining what "gluten free" means on packages

August 2, 2013
Consumers are going to know exactly what they're getting when they buy foods labeled "gluten free."

Potential new treatment may protect celiac patients from gluten-induced injury

June 12, 2014
The gluten-specific enzyme ALV003 reduces a patient's exposure to gluten and its potential harm, according to a new phase 2 study appearing in Gastroenterology1, the official journal of the American Gastroenterological Association. ...

Research finding could lead to new therapies for patients with gluten intolerance

April 1, 2014
Researchers at McMaster University have discovered a key molecule that could lead to new therapies for people with celiac disease, an often painful and currently untreatable autoimmune disorder.

Recommended for you

High-fat diet in pregnancy can cause mental health problems in offspring

July 21, 2017
A high-fat diet not only creates health problems for expectant mothers, but new research in an animal model suggests it alters the development of the brain and endocrine system of their offspring and has a long-term impact ...

To combat teen smoking, health experts recommend R ratings for movies that depict tobacco use

July 21, 2017
Public health experts have an unusual suggestion for reducing teen smoking: Give just about any movie that depicts tobacco use an automatic R rating.

Opioids and obesity, not 'despair deaths,' raising mortality rates for white Americans

July 20, 2017
Drug-related deaths among middle-aged white men increased more than 25-fold between 1980 and 2014, with the bulk of that spike occurring since the mid-1990s when addictive prescription opioids became broadly available, according ...

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

Parents have critical role in preventing teen drinking

July 20, 2017
Fewer teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Australian school students, based on the findings of the latest study by Adelaide researchers.

Fresh fish oil lowers diabetes risk in rat offspring

July 19, 2017
Fresh fish oil given to overweight pregnant rats prevented their offspring from developing a major diabetes risk factor, Auckland researchers have found.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.