A new study, published by the scientific journal Epidemiology, suggests that the rice flour used in a lot of gluten-free foods may be exposing people to potentially harmful levels of arsenic and mercury.
Gluten-free diets are recommended for people with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder where the immune system recognizes gluten protein as foreign and forms autoantibodies to it.
When people with celiac disease eat fermentable carbohydrates containing gluten, like wheat, rye and barley, those antibodies attack the lining of the small intestine and cause inflammation.
The researchers surveyed 7,471 participants of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHNES). Those who reported being on a gluten-free diet (73) showed increased urine and blood levels of the two heavy metals.
Arsenic levels were almost twice as high among the gluten-free group, compared with those on a conventional diet. And mercury levels were 70 percent higher in the gluten-free group.
Long-term exposure to arsenic and mercury at high levels can up risks of cardiovascular disease, neurological problems and cancer, to name a few.
Rice flour, which is often used as a substitute for wheat in gluten-free foods, is the main culprit for contaminatio, as rice has a reputation for easily soaking up metals, including mercury and arsenic, from soil, fertilizer and water.
Screening tests for common antibodies have shown celiac disease to be remarkably prevalent among people with type 1 diabetes. Both autoimmune disorders share some genetic and environmental factors – among them gluten consumption.
People with type 1 diabetes who are found to be celiac are often started on a gluten-free diet. Concerns were raised on multiple occasions about the quality of some gluten-free foods in the market and their nutritional balance.
Some products substitute gluten by very high amounts of sugar, which can raise major challenges and even some doubts about its use for the management of type 1 diabetes.
This new evidence, that gluten-free products can contain high levels of toxic metals, may be another reason to consider going on a more suitable diet, such as a low-carb diet, which helps with both type 1 diabetes and celiac disease by cutting down on grains altogether.

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