No need to shun gluten if you don’t have celiac disease, study suggests

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Gluten, a storage protein in wheat, rye, and barley, triggers inflammation and intestinal damage in people with celiac disease. Due to concern that gluten may also increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease among healthy people, the number of people without celiac disease who have adopted a gluten-free diet grew more than threefold from 2009 to 2014.

A team led by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health used 20 to 30 years of data from the 64,714 women in the Nurses' Health Study and the 45,305 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study to examine the relationship of dietary gluten to the risk of chronic conditions such as coronary artery disease in people without celiac disease or heart disease. All the participants had completed questionnaires on their diet and health every four years from 1986 through 2010.

The team found no significant association between the participants' estimated gluten intake and their risk of developing coronary artery disease. Moreover, further analyses suggested that restricting dietary gluten may reduce a person's intake any of whole grains, which are associated with lower cardiovascular risk.

The authors point out that this is an observational study, so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect. Nevertheless, they conclude that their findings do not support the promotion of a gluten-restricted diet to reduce coronary artery disease risk. The results were published May 2, 2017, in The BMJ.