Gluten has gotten a lot of press lately, bringing many new types of diets (including some fad diets) that recommend we avoid it altogether. The paleo and wheat belly diets come to mind, as they are growing increasingly mainstream. However, as it’s always wise to know the “why” to what we do, let’s look at the data behind the gluten.

Celiac disease, an autoimmune condition triggered by gluten, is a medical problem that is associated with increased cardiovascular risk. The treatment for this is a gluten-free diet. Thankfully, however, only about 0.7% of the U.S. population has this problem. But, given the increased menu items and products on grocery store shelves declaring their “gluten-free” status, doesn’t it ever seem like being gluten-free is another trend that’ll come and go?

What’s the right direction you should go for your specific health needs, particularly if you don’t have celiac disease or gluten intolerance? A large, long-term study was recently published to address this question. The study looked at over 6,000 people over the course of 26 years, giving them over 2 million patient years’ worth of data. They stratified cardiac events by how much reported gluten intake the patients had and controlled for a host of factors including other dietary habits. This is what they found:

  • The most common sources of gluten were: dark bread, pasta, cold cereal, white bread, and pizza.
  • There was an initial trend for more gluten intake being protective, but that did not last when other variables were added to the analysis.
  • There was no benefit with less gluten exposure. Actually, on the flip side, there can be some harm if you avoid whole grains in an attempt to limit gluten.

Again, what should you do? Here’s how you might start:

  • If you have GI symptoms and are worried about what that entails: Go and get checked for celiac disease by your doctor. If you have it, you should avoid gluten.
  • If you don’t have celiac disease, but do have GI symptoms with gluten-containing foods: Limit or avoid foods containing gluten. There is nothing wrong with limiting pasta, white bread, and of course pizza.
  • If you don’t have celiac, don’t have symptoms with those types of glutinous foods: Don’t waste your energy and willpower trying to avoid them to such an extreme! It could be that you’re sticking to a restrictive diet that isn’t actually helping you.

There are so many better ways to start improving upon your health; namely, understanding what makes your body uniquely happy and healthy. Start there.


About the Author

Harvey Hahn, MD, FACC

Dr. Hahn graduated from Loma Linda University in 1994. He is currently the director of the Cardiovascular Fellowship Training Program at the Kettering Medical Center in Kettering Ohio.

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