Gluten-Free Diet May Increase Diabetes Risk

Association found between limited gluten intake and type 2 diabetes.

Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, rye, and barley that gives baked products a chewy texture. Individuals with Celiac disease or gluten sensitivities cannot consume the protein due to an intolerance that causes adverse events.

However, gluten-free diets have become popular in the last few years over claims that it helps individuals lose weight and improves health, despite a lack of scientific evidence.

A new study suggests that low-gluten or gluten-free diets may actually increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. These findings were presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention/Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health 2017 Scientific sessions.

“We wanted to determine if gluten consumption will affect health in people with no apparent medical reasons to avoid gluten,” said researcher Geng Zong, PhD. “Gluten-free foods often have less dietary fiber and other micronutrients, making them less nutritious and they also tend to cost more. People without Celiac disease may reconsider limiting their gluten intake for chronic disease prevention, especially for diabetes.”

Micronutrients are components of the diet, which include vitamins and minerals.

Included in the study were 199,794 individuals who were enrolled in 3 other long-term studies. The authors estimated participants’ daily gluten intake based on food questionnaires that were completed every 2 to 4 years.

The participants’ daily gluten intake varied from an average of 5.8 grams per day to 7.1 grams per day, and they typically consumed gluten through pasta, cereal, pizza, muffin, pretzels, and bread, according to the study.

The authors found that a majority of patients had a gluten intake of less than 12 grams per day. Patients who consumed a larger proportion of gluten within those parameters were less likely to develop diabetes within the next 30 years, according to the study.

However, participants who ate little gluten also tended to consume less cereal fiber, which is known to protect against type 2 diabetes.

Further analyses revealed that individuals who consumed the highest 20% of gluten intake were 13% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, compared with those who consumed the lowest amounts of gluten, according to the study.

Since the study was observational, further research is needed to explore the link between gluten and type 2 diabetes. The authors also reported that many of the participants were included in the studies prior to gluten-free diets becoming popular, so there is no data from those who did not consume gluten.

These findings suggest that gluten-free diets could contribute to the rising prevalence of diabetes, but additional studies are needed to explore the consequences of the diets for individuals who have Celiac disease.