Gluten-Free diets may increase risk of exposure to arsenic and mercury

As gluten-free diets gain popularity in the U.S., the health effects of such a diet have come into question. One study, published March 1 in the journal Epidemiology, said that gluten-free diets could increase exposure to toxic metals such as mercury and arsenic.

In 2015, a quarter of Americans said they ate gluten-free diets. This is a 67 percent increase from 2013.

Gluten-free diets are recommended to people with celiac disease, a serious genetic autoimmune disease triggered by gluten. But, even though less than one percent of people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with the disease, gluten-free diets have become increasingly popular with Americans.

Researchers looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey of 7,471 people between 2009 and 2014, including 73 who reported eating gluten-free diets. Participants that ate gluten-free diets had levels of arsenic twice as high and levels of mercury 70 percent higher compared to the participants who didn’t eat gluten-free. The problem could have to do with rice, which is common in gluten-free products to substitute for wheat. Rice is known to contain toxic metals including arsenic and mercury.

“These results indicate that there could be unintended consequences of eating a gluten-free diet,” study author Maria Argos said.

However, she said that more research is needed before determining gluten-free diets dangerous.

Funding was provided by National Institutes of Health grants.