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10 Oct 2017

Researchers from the University of Newcastle (UON) have highlighted potential risks of following a gluten-free diet, urging the community to only drastically change their eating habits if formally diagnosed with coeliac disease.

Led by Dr Michael Potter from the Hunter Medical Research Institute, a new narrative review published in the Medical Journal of Australia stresses the adverse effects of changing to a gluten-free diet after a self-diagnosis.

Aside from being more expensive and often challenging in a social setting, there is evidence a gluten-free diet can adversely affect human health.

The study found a gluten free diet may negatively affect cardiovascular risk factors such as total cholesterol levels, weight gain leading to obesity, glucose intolerance and blood pressure.

UON researchers say their report raises concerns about self-diagnosis for gluten intolerance with those who incorrectly attribute adverse physiological symptoms to wheat ingestion and unnecessarily subject themselves to a gluten-free diet.

Research found that of people self-reporting gluten or wheat sensitivity, only about 16 per cent show symptoms when subjected to a clinical trial to replicate the response.

The UON research is supported by a recent American study that found evidence unnecessarily following a gluten-free diet could place you at a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

In a study conducted by the American Heart Association over the span of 30 years, researchers found that out of those eating 12 grams or less of gluten per day, the ones who ate most gluten had a lower Type 2 diabetes risk.

The American Heart Association believes that gluten-free diets have become popular for people without these conditions, though there is lack of evidence that reducing gluten consumption benefits long-term health.

“Gluten-free foods often have less dietary fiber and other micronutrients (such as vitamins and minerals), making them less nutritious, and they also tend to cost more,” said Dr Geng Zong, a Research Fellow at Harvard School of Public Health.

“People without celiac disease may reconsider limiting their gluten intake for chronic disease prevention, especially for diabetes.”

Coeliac Australia estimates that one in 70 Australians have coeliac disease, but 80 per cent are undiagnosed and symptoms of coeliac disease vary considerably.

Coeliac Australia warns there are a number of tests and treatments for allergy, intolerance and coeliac disease that are used in the absence of any scientific rationale. These tests and treatments have been shown to be unreliable when subjected to careful study.

Unproven testing methods for coeliac disease provide misleading results, delay correct diagnosis and lead to unnecessary and ineffective treatment cautions Coeliac Australia.


Published: 10 Oct 2017