Gluten-free diet in children could present more risks than benefits, said researchers in a note published Friday by The Journal of Pediatrics. A study demonstrates that most Americans follow a gluten-free lifestyle, for “no reason.” The presence of celiac disease (CD) continues to increase in the United States.

CD is an immune disorder, in which people cannot endure gluten. The latter affects the inner lining of their small intestine. As a response, the organ is prevented from absorbing nutrients, said the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

Many American Parents are giving their kids gluten-free products
A new study suggests that Gluten-free diet in children could present more risks than benefits. Credit:

The small intestine is a tube-shaped organ that connects the stomach and the large intestine. Gluten is a protein mostly found in wheat and rye, explained the NIDDK. CD can impulse the immune system to cause intestinal inflammation and long-lasting damage.

Most Americans consume gluten-free products for “no reason”

A 2015 study demonstrated that most Americans quit gluten consumption for “no reason.” Dr. Norelle R. Reilly, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Columbia University Medical Center and paper’s author, said the gluten-free food industry has increased 136 percent from 2013 to 2015.

However, the expansion of this segment of the market is not proportional to the “increasing prevalence of CD” in the U.S. According to Reilly, there are too many misconstrued theories about the impact of gluten. Avoiding the protein has no extra benefits for people without celiac disease.

“Out of concern for their children’s health, parents sometimes place their children on a gluten-free diet in the belief that it relieves symptoms, can prevent CD, or is a healthy alternative without prior testing for CD or consultation with a dietitian,” said Reilly.

Misconceptions about this polemic protein

One “misconception” is that a gluten-free diet is healthy and offers no disadvantages, explained Reilly, in a press release issued Friday by The Journal of Pediatrics. However, science has not found any proven health benefit of that theory, yet.

Avoiding gluten could increase fat and calorie consumption. It could also cause nutritional deficiencies and affect a diagnosis of CD, said Reilly. Another theory suggests that the protein is toxic, nonetheless, there’s no data to explain it.

There’s is no scientific evidence to show that a gluten-free lifestyle is better for kids that have not been diagnosed with CD or wheat allergy. In fact, “it could actually pose more risk than benefit,” said Reilly.

Skipping food containing gluten can make children lose B vitamins, iron, and fiber, if they do not follow a proper diet, said Jennifer Willoughby, a pediatric dietician at Cleveland Clinic Children’s to CBS News.

“Especially in a young child, when we’re looking at removing basically an entire food group from the diet, if there aren’t enough appropriate substitutions in there, we run the risk of poor growth, malnutrition and missing out on a lot of their necessary vitamins and minerals,” said Willoughby.

Reilly concluded that parents should be advised about financial, social and nutritional effects of a non-needed gluten-free diet. She said health care providers may not be able to stop the massive food industry. However, they can educate patients and parents.

One out of 141 Americans has celiac disease

Scientists do not know what causes celiac disease. Evidence demonstrates that 50 percent of people who have the disorder have also a family member diagnosed with it. A theory proposes that the development of CD is linked to genetics and the environment, said the NIDDK.

One out of 141 Americans has the disorder. However, most of them remain undiagnosed, said the NIDDK. Registers show that CD is more prevalent among Caucasians and females. It is also common among people with Down syndrome and Turner syndrome.

Source: The Journal of Pediatrics