The gluten-free diet, a must for people suffering from Celiac disease—an allergy to wheat and gluten (also found in grains like spelt, barley, and rye)—may also suffer from continued intestinal damage long after removing gluten from the diet, finds a new study.
The research, published in the recent issue of the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, looked at the digestive systems of children diagnosed with celiac, following a gluten-free diet for at least one year.
According to the researchers, repeat biopsies found “persistent” intestinal damage in 19 percent of the subjects, 60 percent of which were female. This chronic damage indicates potential problems with malabsorption and chronic inflammation that could lead to nutritional deficiencies as well as other health and cognitive issues. The findings are similar to studies that have observed prolonged digestive distress in adults, the researchers noted.
The research was conducted by Mass General Hospital for Children (MGHfC) and Boston Children’s Hospital. The research team reviewed medical histories of the children, average age 10.6 years, including repeated endoscopies and biopsies.
“The number of children who don’t heal on the gluten-free diet was much higher than what I expected,” Dr. Alessio Fasano, director of MGHfC and lead author of the study, said in Food Navigator USA.
“We assumed that healing would occur once a patient was put on a gluten-free diet,” Fasano noted, “we have learned this is not the case.”
Interest in gluten-free foods is at an all-time high with diets like the popular paleo diet eschewing most grains, including wheat.
But the number of people who should avoid wheat—those with a celiac diagnosis—is significantly lower than the number of people who self-identify as gluten-allergic or gluten-intolerant, supporting the booming gluten-free diet. Only about one person in a thousand is affected by celiac disease—an autoimmune disorder that causes damage to the small intestine when gluten is ingested.
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