Many restaurants have started to accommodate gluten-free (gf) requests for those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. Currently, about one percent of the population has celiac disease, yet one in five Americans follow a gluten-free lifestyle, which has become a popular diet trend. Now, a new study published in BMJ found people without celiac disease who eat gluten do not have a higher risk for coronary heart disease, as previously suspected.

The team of researchers based in the US warn that "promotion of gluten-free diets for the purpose of coronary heart disease prevention among asymptomatic people without celiac disease should not be recommended,” according to the news release.

Lisa Cohn, a registered dietitian for miVIP Surgery Centers, warns a gluten-free diet for people without celiac disease can actually increase heart risk. A reduction in vitamin B intake and folic acid and an increase in homocysteine levels is associated with heart problems. "Less fibrous grains/reduced fiber may increase triglyceride levels and negatively affect cholesterol levels," she told Medical Daily.

Read More: Gluten-Free Diet Benefits And Risk For Those Without Celiac Disease

Dietary gluten is known to trigger inflammation and intestinal damage in people with celiac disease. It's also associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease — damage in the heart’s major blood vessels — which is reduced when patients go on a gluten-free diet. Meanwhile, people with intestinal or extra-intestinal symptoms triggered by gluten, may have non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

Gluten avoidance among those without the disease is partly based on the belief the protein can have harmful side effects, including higher risk of obesity, metabolic syndrome, neuropsychiatric symptoms, and cardiovascular risk among healthy people. As a result, gluten-free diets have gained popularity.

This prompted researchers to examine the link between gluten intake and the development of coronary heart disease in a cohort of US health professionals with no history of coronary heart disease. Over 64,700 females and over 45,300 males completed a detailed food questionnaire in 1986, which was updated every four years through 2010. Gluten intake and the development of coronary heart disease was observed throughout this 26-year period.

The researchers did not find any significant link between gluten intake and the risk of developing coronary heart disease, even after risk factors were considered. Moreover, they believe going on a gluten-free diet to reduce coronary heart disease is not reliable.

They concluded their findings "do not support the promotion of a gluten-restricted diet with a goal of reducing coronary heart disease risk."

Read More: Why You Shouldn't Go Gluten-Free If You Don't Have Celiac Disease

It's important for people without celiac disease to have a proper intake of wheat, barley, and rye, because they provide vitamins, minerals, and complex carbohydrate energy, especially when eating non-GMO products. Whole grains like wheat, barley and rye can reduce your risk of other diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity and other chronic illnesses. For example, a 2015 study in JAMA Internal Medicine found higher whole grain intake is associated with lower total and cardiovascular disease deaths in US men and women, regardless of other dietary and lifestyle factors.

Evidently there is a strong connection between whole grains and better health. Cohn advises for those who choose to self-prescribe as gluten-free, to “understand what is being reduced and how to balance that in an individualized way.”

Source: Lebwohl B, Cao Y, Zong G et al. Long term gluten consumption in adults without celiac disease and risk of coronary heart disease: prospective cohort study. BMJ. 2017.

See Also:

Is Gluten-Free Healthy? The ‘Dirty Truth’ Behind The Diet's Weight, Sleep And Health Benefits

Kids Who Go Gluten-Free: Why It's Probably Not A Healthy Diet For Young Eaters