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There are a wide variety of diets that people follow nowadays for several reasons, including ethical and health issues. However, some of them could be detrimental at some point. The gluten-free diet is the new trend for weight loss, but does it work?

Gluten-free diet for weight loss: Is this true?

The gluten-free diet has become very popular in the last years. It has been widely advertised by movie and TV stars as an option for weight loss. There are thousands of blogs that talk about the huge benefits of following a gluten-free diet and they even offer options of gluten-free meals that you can cook at home, using gluten-free products. The market for these last ones has therefore grown impressively and many general and specialized supermarkets offer a varied range of gluten-free products for people to be able to follow this new “life-style” and loose weight easily by taking gluten out from their lives.

But, is there reliable scientific evidence that supports a gluten-free diet to loose weight? Let’s dig more into this.

Gluten intolerance as a disease

Gluten is a protein present in wheat mainly, but also in other grains such as barley and rye. Gluten intolerance is the main feature of a variety of diseases, including celiac disease and non-celiac disorders and is caused by an adverse reaction to the gluten protein, from the immune system.

Celiac disease, also known as sprue, is an autoimmune disorder that affects the small intestine of patients.

Gluten causes an intense immune reaction in this region of the gastrointestinal tract, leading to inflammation. Because the immune system attacks and damages the inner part of the small intestine, the cells that normally absorb the nutrients die or loose functionality, preventing nutrients from being absorbed and causing undernourishment in people with the disease. Symptoms of the disease include abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, weight loss, depression, anxiety, fatigue, and other symptoms related to this state of undernourishment.

Non-celiac gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity is similar to celiac disease, but patients that only show gluten sensitivity do not show intestinal damage.

Symptoms are also similar to the ones present in celiac disease and both diseases are seen genetically predisposed patients.

Gluten intolerance is not a common disorder. Only 5% of people in the world suffer from it and most of them do not know about their condition, since it is not an easy disease to diagnose.

The gluten free diet as medical treatment

Research has shown that the introduction of a gluten-free diet in the life-style of people with either celiac disease or gluten sensitivity helps in the control of the disease. Because of this, one of the treatments that people with gluten intolerance have to follow is a diet free of wheat products and other grains.

This diet is not harmless, though. There is also evidence that shows that, even when the diet is carefully designed and controlled by a specialist, patients with gluten intolerance show signs of vitamin deficiency, specifically of folate and vitamin B6, after following this diet for 10 years. 

This is an important issue that clinicians must take into account when treating a patient with gluten intolerance, because the lack of nutrients can cause delays in development in children, for example.

Wheat allergy is also a gluten-related disorder, but is very rare and can be treated with a wheat free diet rather than a more restrictive gluten-free diet. 

Continue reading after recommendations

  • COPELTON, D. A. & VALLE, G. 2009. "You don't need a prescription to go gluten-free": the scientific self-diagnosis of celiac disease. Soc Sci Med, 69, 623-31
  • CROWE, S. E. 2014. Management of celiac disease: beyond the gluten-free diet. Gastroenterology, 146, 1594-6
  • GAESSER, G. A. & ANGADI, S. S. 2012. Gluten-free diet: imprudent dietary advice for the general population? J Acad Nutr Diet, 112, 1330-3
  • HALLERT, C., GRANT, C., GREHN, S., GRANNO, C., HULTEN, S., MIDHAGEN, G., STROM, M., SVENSSON, H. & VALDIMARSSON, T. 2002. Evidence of poor vitamin status in coeliac patients on a gluten-free diet for 10 years. Aliment Pharmacol Ther, 16, 1333-9.
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