Gluten-free diets have become the newest food trend in the United States in recent years, even if less than 1% of Americans have celiac disease – which actually requires no gluten consumption. Now, a new study suggests that there may be potential harm in following this fad.
Researchers at the University of Illinois in Chicago state that rice flour, which these diets use as a substitute for wheat, usually accumulates toxic metals that can lead to heightened risks for cancer, heart disease and neurological illnesses, Fox News reports.
These metals, which include arsenic and mercury, get into the rice from fertilizers, soil and water. Previous studies have also linked the same toxic metals to rice.
While the findings are preliminary, this study suggests that the possible risks of gluten-free diets may weigh more than the clinically unproven, yet much-hyped, benefits. According to proponents of the trend, gluten-free foods can decrease bloating and promote weight loss.
The team surveyed around 7,480 people on their eating habits. They found that the 73 people who were on a gluten-free diet had more concentrated levels of arsenic in their urine and mercury in their blood compared to the other participants. Arsenic levels were nearly twice as high and mercury levels were up to 70% higher in those who went without gluten.
Maria Argos, assistant professor of epidemiology at the UIC School of Public Health and one of the study authors, says, “In Europe, there are regulations for food-based arsenic exposure, and perhaps that is something we here in the United States need to consider. 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.”
Around a quarter of Americans reported eating gluten-free in 2015, which was a whopping 67% increase from 2013, the researchers note. This sharp increase means more people are consuming toxic metals more than ever, they say.