Can a gluten-free diet prevent celiac disease or cancer?

This article provided by Erin Williams, graduate student in medical nutrition.

Pasta, salad dressings, bread – these are some examples of foods that contain gluten. Gluten is a protein found in foods made from wheat, barley and rye. It acts like a “glue” to help food retain its shape and texture.

A common question is whether gluten can increase inflammation and your overall cancer risk. Let’s look at the science.

Can gluten cause celiac disease? No.

Celiac disease is a disease that affects a person’s intestines. When people with this disease eat foods that contain gluten, their body sends out a powerful response. This response attacks the person’s intestines and seriously damages them. Celiac disease is a genetic disease, so avoiding gluten does not reduce the risk of contracting it.

1 in 133 Americans has celiac disease, about 1% of the population.

Symptoms of celiac disease:

  • Bloating
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Gas
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Loose, oily, bulky, and foul-smelling stools
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Stomach pain

If you have celiac disease, it’s important to avoid gluten. Choose gluten-free grains like rice, quinoa, buckwheat, and oats (make sure they’re certified gluten-free).

Can gluten increase my risk of cancer? No.

On its own, gluten does not cause inflammation in non-celiacs. Eating foods containing gluten does not increase inflammation in these people. This also means that it does not increase the risk of developing or re-developing cancer. In fact, eating 3 ounces of whole grains a day may actually reduce the risk of certain cancers. If you haven’t been diagnosed with celiac disease, you don’t need to avoid gluten.

An English study revealed that celiac patients following a gluten-free diet did not have an increased risk of developing cancer. However, people with celiac disease who ate a certain amount of gluten found an increased risk of certain cancers.

What you can do to reduce your overall cancer risk

  • Have a well-balanced diet
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Practice regular physical activity
  • Avoid smoking
  • Limit alcohol consumption

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