According to a new report in the journal Epidemiology, people who eat a gluten-free diet may actually be at higher risk for exposure to arsenic and mercury.
This is quite concerning considering the growing popularity of the gluten-free diet with a quarter of Americans having gone gluten-free in 2015. That was a 67% increase from 2013.
The cause for the increased risk for arsenic and mercury exposure, however, is not necessarily a result of the gluten-free diet itself. Instead, it appears to be due to the fact that many gluten-free products contain rice flour as a substitute for wheat. Rice has been known to bioaccumulate both arsenic and mercury, as well as other toxic heavy metals, from water, soil or fertilizers.
Maria Argos, an Assistant Professor of Epidemiology in the UIC School of Public Health, looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in order to search for a link between toxic metals in blood and urine and the gluten-free diet.
Out of 7,471 people who completed survey, 73 were gluten-free. The results were that the people who were eating gluten-free had higher concentrations of mercury in their blood and arsenic in their urine. Arsenic levels were nearly twice as high for gluten-free dieters and mercury levels were 70% higher.
These results indicate that there could be unintended consequences of eating a gluten-free diet. But until we perform the studies to determine if there are corresponding health consequences that could be related to higher levels of exposure to arsenic and mercury by eating gluten-free, more research is needed before we can determine whether this diet poses a significant health risk.
In Europe, there are regulations for food-based arsenic exposure, and perhaps that is something we here in the United States need to consider. 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.
These results are a perfect example of how Americans are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to their diet. On one hand, Americans are faced with pesticide-laden wheat that is the equivalent of the Final Solution for gut bacteria and the cause of a host of other health problems. On the other hand, whenever the consumers try to avoid the toxic wheat they end up replacing it with rice polluted with toxic heavy metals.
It appears that in 2017 only China can compete with the United States for the most toxic and harmful food materials consumed by the average person. These results should be a wake up call for anyone who values the ability to eat clean food and serve as an immediate call to action for all Americans.