Do Gluten-Free Diets Increase Mercury, Lead, and Arsenic? A recent study says yes. However, there are some very important caveats that will be reassuring to gluten-free dieters. Let’s discuss the details.
Dr. Michael Ruscio: Heavy metal toxicity, an unintended consequence of the gluten-free diet.
Hi, this is Dr. Ruscio. And let’s discuss this issue, because a recent study (1a) did, in fact, show that those on a gluten-free diet had significantly higher levels of lead, mercury, and arsenic in either their blood or urine.
So, is this something that could be detrimental to your health if you’re eating gluten-free or partially gluten-free? Well, the good news is, in my opinion, the answer to that question is no.
Now, while those who diet gluten-free were shown to have higher levels that were significantly higher than controls who did not eat gluten-free, the change from one group to the other—both of those were still well within the normal and acceptable ranges for levels of mercury, lead, or arsenic and cadmium in this study in the sample ranges.
So according to what the normal range for the test values is—let’s say this is the range. Let’s say here’s someone who eats gluten. Here’s someone who eats gluten-free. It was a significant difference from one group to the other mathematically, statistically.
But in terms of, does this have any real world impact or relevance? Is it something that should make you rethink your diet? In my opinion, absolutely not.
It’s certainly an interesting finding, but I want to take a moment to address this study, because this information, spun the wrong way, may make you rethink a gluten-free diet, may make you think that you have to do heavy metal testing and treatment just because you’re on a gluten-free diet which, of course, would be quite a bit of expense and therapy to go through if it’s not even really, truly needed.
So while, yes, again this study did show significantly higher levels of mercury, lead, and arsenic in either the blood or urine for those who are gluten-free compared to those who ate gluten, the difference wasn’t really clinically meaningful. So it’s just something really important to be aware of.
Now, where does this come from? It may be that some of the grains that are used in place of wheat, rye, and barley that are gluten-free, like rice for example, may have higher levels of some of these contaminants.
Might you mitigate that risk if you eat organic? Possibly. There’s no documentation that really answers that question. But certainly, I think there is some plausibility to that.
But again, just because something is statistically significant doesn’t mean it’s clinically meaningful or meaningful in the real world.
So if you hear about this issue, just take a moment. Take a deep breath. And realize that this, in my opinion, is nothing that is cause for alarm. And if you’re someone who does better on a gluten-free diet, you can continue to do that gluten-free diet without any worry about any potential overload of heavy metal toxicity.
That’s it! This is Dr. Ruscio. I hope this information helps you get healthy and get back to your life. Thanks!
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