In a study published by The BMJ, researchers found that whole grains are associated with cardiovascular benefits, and as restricting gluten may result in a low intake of whole grains, these benefits are lost. The study also found that long-term dietary intake of gluten among people without celiac disease is not associated with risk of coronary heart disease.
The researchers therefore conclude that the use of gluten-free diets among people without celiac disease should not be promoted.
In people with celiac disease, dietary gluten causes intestinal damage and inflammation, and is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease. These symptoms and risks are reduced after treatment with a gluten-free diet.
The use of gluten free diets has however increased in recent years among people without celiac disease, partly due to the belief that gluten can have harmful health effects.
Despite the rising trend in gluten free or low gluten diets there have been no long-term studies that assess the relationship between dietary gluten, and the risk of chronic conditions, including coronary heart disease, in people without celiac disease.
A team of researchers from the USA recently examined the correlation between long-term intake of gluten and the development of coronary heart disease.
The team analyzed data on 45,303 male and 64,714 female US health professionals who completed a detailed food questionnaire in 1986. The participants had no history of coronary heart disease and the questionnaire was updated every four years until 2010.
For this 26-year period, data on the consumption of gluten and development of coronary heart disease was extracted. The team adjusted for known risk factors and found no significant association between estimated gluten intake and the risk of subsequent overall coronary heart disease. Further analyses did however suggest that restricting dietary gluten might result in a reduced intake of whole grains. Whole grains are associated with lower cardiovascular risk.
The authors did point out that, as this was only an observational study, no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect. They also outlined various limitations that could have introduced bias. In spite of this, they concluded that their findings do not support that the goal of reducing coronary heart disease risk could be achieved with a gluten-restricted diet.
The team went further by advising that gluten-free diets should not be recommended for preventing coronary heart disease among asymptomatic people without celiac disease.