Heart health does not im­prove by eat­ing gluten-free foods

Great Health Guide - - CONTENTS - Dr War­rick Bishop

Gluten-free di­ets have soared in pop­u­lar­ity over the past decade. Nev­er­the­less, does the re­search sup­port the con­clu­sion that re­strict­ing gluten leads to heart health? The short an­swer is ‘yes’, but with a caveat: If and only if you have Coeliac Dis­ease. I think it’s a ma­jor step for­ward that peo­ple who need to avoid gluten can now very eas­ily do so, be­cause gluten­free foods are in­creas­ingly avail­able and food la­bels clearly iden­tify foods with or with­out gluten. Nev­er­the­less, the links be­tween gluten and heart health seem to have been ex­ag­ger­ated by the press and in turn, th­ese al­leged risks have been over­sold by food man­u­fac­tur­ers.


Gluten is a pro­tein that is found in food prod­ucts that con­tain wheat, rye and bar­ley. In Coeliac Dis­ease, suf­fer­ers have an im­mune re­ac­tion when they eat gluten. This trig­gers in­flam­ma­tion and causes in­testi­nal dam­age. Ad­di­tion­ally, Coeliac Dis­ease is as­so­ci­ated with an in­creased risk of heart dis­ease, but that risk de­creases when a gluten-free diet is fol­lowed. For those who do have Coeliac Dis­ease, the ir­ri­ta­tion caused by the pro­teins in gluten can in­ter­fere with the ab­sorp­tion of nu­tri­ents from the small in­tes­tine. Long-term, the prob­lem with nu­tri­ent mal­ab­sorp­tion can lead to heart dis­ease, os­teo­poro­sis and in some cases, even can­cer.


A long-term study that was con­ducted over a pe­riod of 26 years has led to an up­surge in me­dia in­ter­est about the pos­si­ble link be­tween gluten in­take and heart at­tacks. The in­ves­ti­ga­tors of this re­search con­tended that there is a pos­si­ble link be­tween an in­creased risk of a heart at­tack and re­strict­ing gluten. Nev­er­the­less, this link was found to be un­re­lated to the gluten it­self, but in­stead, it was found to be due to the re­duced con­sump­tion of grains or other grain-based

prod­ucts that could be as­so­ci­ated with gluten con­sump­tion. That is, eat­ing th­ese prod­ucts prob­a­bly led to a re­duc­tion in over­all fi­bre in­take and ap­par­ently, led to an in­crease in over­all in­take of un­healthy fats and sug­ars. Al­though me­dia re­port­ing of this re­search did not ex­plore po­ten­tial ex­pla­na­tions for the link be­tween gluten and heart at­tacks, it can be safely con­cluded from the study that if you are con­tem­plat­ing re­duc­ing your gluten in­take for car­dio­vas­cu­lar health, it’s not nec­es­sar­ily go­ing to im­prove your heart health.


If you are look­ing to re­duce gluten for symp­to­matic rea­sons like bloat­ing, bet­ter di­ges­tion and bet­ter sense of well-be­ing, then that is en­tirely rea­son­able. How­ever un­less you have been di­ag­nosed with Coeliac Dis­ease don’t ex­pect a re­duc­tion in risk of heart at­tack. If you want to have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of your car­dio­vas­cu­lar risk and health, then in­stead of cut­ting out the gluten, visit your lo­cal doc­tor and ask about what tech­nol­ogy is avail­able th­ese days to look at your ar­ter­ies and see what risk you truly have when it comes to coro­nary artery dis­ease and heart health.

Re­mem­ber: Any time you elim­i­nate whole cat­e­gories of food that you have been used to eat­ing you run the risk of nu­tri­tional de­fi­cien­cies. So if in doubt, make an ap­point­ment with your lo­cal doc­tor to dis­cuss a di­etary plan that best meets your own nu­tri­tional needs and take care of your heart health.

Dr War­rick Bishop is a car­di­ol­o­gist with spe­cial in­ter­est in car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease preven­tion in­cor­po­rat­ing imag­ing, lipids and lifestyle. He is au­thor of the book ‘Have You Planned Your Heart At­tack?’, writ­ten for pa­tients and doc­tors about how to live in­ten­tion­ally to re­duce car­dio­vas­cu­lar risk and save lives! Dr Bishop can be con­tacted via his web­site.

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