Study: Don’t go Gluten-Free if You Don’t Have Celiac Disease

Are you eating a gluten-free diet, but you don’t have celiac disease? A new study suggests that you may not want to make that move. Not only does a gluten-free diet not prevent heart disease, but researchers say avoiding gluten when you don’t have celiac disease could lead to cardiovascular disease and more.

According to the study, people without celiac disease who go gluten-free could wind up with serious health problems, because a gluten-free diet is associated with lower consumption of whole grains, which are associated with a lower risk of heart disease. [1]

Read: “Maybe it’s not the Gluten,” Study Says to the Public

Researchers write in The BMJ that “the promotion of gluten-free diets among people without celiac disease should not be encouraged.”

For people with gluten sensitivity – those who don’t have celiac disease, but have abdominal pain and other problems when they eat gluten – it still makes sense to restrict gluten intake.

However, Dr. Andrew T. Chan, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, says:

“It is important to make sure that this [gluten restriction] is balanced with the intake of non-gluten containing whole grains, since these are associated with a lower risk of heart disease.”

Wheat, rye, and barley are all sources of gluten. When people with celiac disease eat foods containing gluten, it triggers an immune reaction that damages the lining of the small intestine. Based on that knowledge, many people who don’t have celiac disease adopt a gluten-free diet, assuming that it is a healthier lifestyle choice.

Says Chan:

“The popularity of a low gluten or gluten-free diet in the general population has markedly increased in recent years.

However these findings underscore the potential that people who severely restrict gluten intake may also significantly limit their intake of whole grains, which may actually be associated with adverse cardiovascular outcomes.

The promotion of gluten-free diets among people without celiac disease should not be encouraged.” [2]

Read: Eating Whole Grains Could Extend Your Life

For the study, researchers looked at data from nearly 120,000 health professionals over the age of 26. The participants periodically answered questions over a 26-year period concerning the types of food they ate. Based on participants’ answers, the Harvard team estimated how much gluten each individual consumed in his or her diet.

The researchers also gathered data on whether participants suffered a heart attack during the study, which was considered a proxy for the development of coronary artery disease. [1]

The scientists, upon dividing the participants in to 5 groups based on the amount of gluten they ate, discovered that those in the group that ate the most gluten were no less likely to have a heart attack than those in the group that ate the least gluten.

At first glance, the data appeared to show that gluten intake was associated with a lower risk of heart attack. But the lower risk wasn’t due to gluten consumption itself. Instead, it was linked with the consumption of whole grains associated with gluten intake.

Source: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

The team wrote:

“These findings do not support the promotion of a gluten-restricted diet with a goal of reducing coronary heart disease risk.”

The news gets worse. The researchers also found that eating only small amounts of gluten, or not eating it at all, increased the risk of diabetes by 13%. Another “Debbie Downer” finding was that people who ate the least gluten were 15% more likely to suffer from coronary heart disease compared with those who ate the most. [2]

The researchers concluded that “promotion of gluten-free diets for the purpose of coronary heart disease prevention among asymptomatic people without celiac disease should not be recommended.” [3]


[1] LiveScience

[2] The Telegraph

[3] The Sun

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

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Could Staring at a Screen Ignite Speech Delays in Toddlers?

Smartphones and tablets are a good way to keep young children quiet and entertained, but a recent study suggests that babies and toddlers allowed too much screen time may go on to develop speech delays.

Study principal investigator Dr. Catherine Birken, a staff pediatrician and scientist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, says:

“Handheld devices are everywhere these days. While new pediatric guidelines suggest limiting screen time for babies and toddlers, we believe that the use of smartphones and tablets with young children has become quite common. This is the first study to report an association between handheld screen time and increased risk of expressive language delay.” [1]

The American Academy of Family Physicians explains expressive language as the ability to convey feelings and information. The AAP discourages any type of screen media in children younger than 18 months.

However, the American Academy of Pediatrics moved away last year from recommending a total ban on screen time in children 18-24 months. Instead, the group says that parents of children in this age group should choose high-quality programming and view it with their children to make sure they understand what they are seeing. [2]

One thing is clear: Unsupervised, unlimited screen time is not good for developing brains.

More Screen Time = More Risk

The study involved nearly 900 children from Toronto between the ages of 6 months and 2 years. At their 18-month checkup, 20% of the children of the youngsters were already spending an average of 28 minutes per day using handheld electronic gadgets, such as tablets, smartphones, and electronic games. [1]

The team used an infant toddler checklist, a validated screening tool, to assess the children’s language development at 18 months. They wanted to find out whether the child used sounds or words get attention or help, if they were able to put words together, and how many words each child used. [2]

The researchers found that the more time a child spent using handheld devices, the more likely that child was to have delays in expressive speech. To be specific, every 30 minutes of screen time was associated with a 49% increased risk of expressive speech delay.

The study did not find any link between the use of a handheld device and other areas of communication, such as gestures, body language, and social interaction. [2]

The study also did not prove a direct cause-and-effect link between handheld devices and speech delays. The team concluded that more research is needed to better understand the connection. [1]

Michael Robb, research director for Common Sense Media, says:

“This is an important study in highlighting some of the potential risks associated with media use, and specifically handheld mobile devices. What’s driving the effect is very important. The negative effects may be due to screen time replacing parent-child interaction (playing, reading, talking, singing, etc.) which are critical for healthy development.” [2]

The study was presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting in San Francisco.

Gadgets like smartphones and tablets are fun, and can be very educational, but they are also associated with stress and anxiety in families that fail to set appropriate boundaries for their use, particularly when it comes to when children can use the devices, and for how long.

As a result, many young children are growing up to be completely dependent on technology. According to the discouraging findings of a study published last spring, about 59% of children ages 12-18 are addicted to their smartphones.

Yet another study published last fall showed that kids as young as 6 are so glued to technology, that even having a phone, tablet, or computer in the room is enough to prevent them from sleeping.

Some adults aren’t much better, let’s be honest. But setting guidelines now may help the littlest ones among us to become more balanced and independent when it comes to technology.


[1] Health Day

[2] CNN

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