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ALERT: Eating Gluten-Free Diet Could Increase the Risk of Arsenic, Mercury Exposure

Feb 14, 2017 11:28 AM EST
Rice
Rice flour used as substitute for wheat in gluten-free foods increases exposure risk to arsenic and mercury.
(Photo : VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

More and more Americans are turning to gluten-free diet following the notion that it can reduce inflammation. However, a new study revealed that eating a gluten-free diet may have unintended consequences that could have a negative impact in the overall health of a person.

The study, published in the journal Epidemiology, showed that people in gluten-free diet are at more risk of being exposed to toxic metals, mercury and lead, due to the rice flour used as substitute for wheat in gluten-free foods.

"These results indicate that there could be unintended consequences of eating a gluten-free diet," said Maria Argos, assistant professor of epidemiology at University of Illinois, Chicago School of Public Health and one of the authors of the study, in a press release.

"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," she added.

Read: The Great Fitness Debate: Gluten-Free, Paleo, Vegan or Vegetarian -- Which Diet Works Best?

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to search for a possible connection between gluten-free diet and biomarkers of toxic metals in the blood and urine. Among the 7,471 participants who completed the survey, a total of 73 reported eating a gluten-free diet. The survey was conducted between 2009 and 2014, with the participants aging from 6 to 80 years old.

The researchers observed that people who reported eating a gluten-free diet have higher levels of mercury and arsenic in their blood and urine, compared to those who are not in gluten-free diet. The mercury levels of people in gluten-free diet were 70 percent higher, while their arsenic levels were two times higher than those who are not in gluten-free diet.

The increase exposure to mercury and arsenic were attributed to the use of rice as substitute for wheat. The researchers noted that rice is known to bioaccumulate certain certain toxic metals, including arsenic and mercury, from fertilizers, soil and water.

Despite the increase concentration of arsenic and mercury, the researchers is still not sure whether gluten-free diet poses a significant health risk.

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