It’s best just to start off with the most basic, blatant information about gluten and claims of reactions to it, before we get into today’s study.
Debunking Some Pseudoscience
Unless you have celiac disease, you cannot have a reaction to gluten. So-called “gluten intolerance” was debunked by the very team of scientists that claimed its existence in the first place, after they conducted a more rigorous second study. They properly followed the scientific method and corrected their prior mistaken results.
That said, there are two other conditions that it’s possible to have, both of which have nothing to do with gluten. It is possible to have an allergy to wheat, meaning wheat proteins themselves cause a reaction. This has nothing to do with gluten and people suffering with this allergy can eat other non-wheat foods that contain gluten with no problems.
The second condition is one that likely has its roots in the claims of intolerance to gluten and it still requires more research. In short, it appears some people, a very small amount mind you, may have a reaction to FODMAPs, which is an acronym that stands for “Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides And Polyols”.
They are a type of short chain carbohydrate that has some evidence behind them being the cause for various types of intestinal problems. To reiterate, there is still a limited amount of evidence on negative reactions to FODMAPs, but if this condition is real, then it means a reaction to a huge variety of foods and not at all just limited to claims on gluten-containing foods.
Now that all the necessary debunking is out of the way, let’s get to the topic of this article, whose title i’m sure drew you here in the first place.
Onto The Research
Researchers at Harvard University recently presented a long-term observational study at the annual conference and seminar hosted by the American Heart Association. Here’s the setup.
The study followed 4.24 million people from time periods of 1984-1990 and with a followup from 2010-2013. The overall purpose was to follow dietary intake and correlate this to risk of developing type II diabetes. The total number of diabetes cases that resulted in this group amounted to 15,947 people.
While conducting this overall observation, more particular studies were also conducted with smaller subsets of people used in the study. These were titled the Nurses’ Health Study, the Nurses’ Health Study II, and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, all of which followed around 200,000 people within the overall group.
Direct food intake questionnaires over a period of years allowed them to estimate nutritional intake, including things like gluten intake. What was found was that between the groups that had the highest gluten intake in comparison to those with the lowest intake (4 grams or less), the risk of type II diabetes was 13% lower in the former group. Them’s the ultimate results from the observational study.
Not So Fast Though
But there are qualifications to consider. As one of the primary researchers pointed out, the scientists involved do not believe that gluten is directly responsible for the lowered risk. Nor is it necessarily the lack of gluten that causes the higher risk.
Instead, the researcher suggested that due to gluten-free foods often having lower micronutrients and fiber, a reduction in necessary vitamins and mineral consumption likely is a large contributing factor to Type II diabetes risk.
There may be other factors involved, but that’s the evidence that exists right now. While the specific reasons behind the results are still unclear, they do still point to the fact that people who stick to low gluten or gluten-free diets appear to have a higher incidence of contracting Type II diabetes.
Hopefully future health research can pin down more clear reasons. But this is what we’ve got at the moment and now you’re informed on the study behind the many news headline claims you’re likely to see over the next few days and beyond.
Photo CCs: Korb mit Brötchen from Wikimedia Commons