Gluten-free craze not backed by science, ASU professor finds

October 8, 2012

There is no benefit for the average healthy adult to follow a gluten-free diet, according to research published by an Arizona State University professor in the September 2012 issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The study debunks the idea that going gluten-free is an effective way to lose weight.

Glenn Gaesser, professor and director of the Healthy Lifestyles Research Center in the ASU School of Nutrition and Health Promotion, notes that while gluten-free dieting has gained considerable popularity, there is no published evidence to support such claims. In fact, there are data to suggest that gluten itself may provide some health benefits. Download Full Image

Gaesser wrote “Gluten-free diet: imprudent dietary advice for the general population?” with Siddhartha Angadi, an ASU doctoral student who graduated in May and now is a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Nursing.

Gluten refers to protein found in the grains wheat, rye and barley. People who have celiac disease and gluten sensitivity must avoid all foods containing gluten to avoid abdominal cramping, bloating and diarrhea. About one percent of Americans have celiac disease and another six percent suffer from gluten sensitivity, yet many people believe going gluten-free leads to good health for everyone.

“The market for gluten-free products is expected to reach $2.6 billion in 2012, and it’s an industry based on a false premise,” says Gaesser. “It’s become such a popular notion that if you Google ‘gluten-free diet’ you’ll get more than 4.2 million results. Celebrities endorse it, and there are hundreds of books being published on it.

“But the only reason you would lose weight is that you’re cutting calories. It probably won’t hurt you to go gluten-free. However, there are indications that gluten may contribute to blood pressure control and immune function, and may create a healthy composition of colon bacteria.”

A gluten-free diet often leads to weight gain because many gluten-free products contain more added fats and sugars than other products, he said.

In submitting his article for peer review by other scientists before publication, Gaesser disclosed that he is the scientific advisory board chairman of the Grain Foods Foundation. As a longtime critic of anti-carbohydrate dieting, he was asked by the foundation to review the scientific literature associated with gluten-free dieting. Afterwards he asked permission to publish the results.

“People might think I had a bias, but I couldn’t find any published literature on the health benefits of gluten-free diets for people without celiac disease, gluten sensitivity or autoimmune disorders. There should be some studies, but there are none.

“This paper is one of the first to look at the other side of the gluten craze. Far too many Americans are following the diet for reasons that simply do not make sense. It’s time to listen to the science.”

Conference urges research on physical activity in disease prevention, treatment

October 8, 2012

To treat chronic conditions like obesity, diabetes and heart disease, doctors may need to tell their patients to get moving. More research is needed to compare prescribed treatments for these conditions, including physical activity. That’s the rationale behind a health research conference hosted by Arizona State University which aims to spur more research into physical activity as a treatment and prevention approach.

The conference will be from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Nov. 17, at ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus. The event is presented by ASU, Mayo Clinic, American College of Sports Medicine, Anytime Fitness and Healthways. Download Full Image

Medical, pharmaceutical and surgical interventions are generally at the top of the list for treating these chronic conditions. But this ignores the reality that physical activity has powerful benefits, and often at a fraction of the cost, says Barbara Ainsworth, associate director for health promotion programs in the ASU School of Nutrition and Health Promotion.

“With the move toward health care reform, there should be a lot of interest in keeping people healthy and out of the hospital,” she says. “We want to encourage researchers to develop studies that include physical activity, to guide health care strategies at both the individual practitioner and overall health system level.

“Little research has included physical activity as a comparative treatment option, though it has been shown to be a very powerful one. Researchers have been focused on traditional medical approaches, when comparing treatments. Physical activity is not on their radar.”

Physical activity doesn’t have many of the side effects of medication and has been shown to also lower blood pressure, reduce depression and enhance cognitive function, she says.

The conference will create a collaborative research network and build a research agenda for “comparative effectiveness research” that compares efficacy, costs, benefits, harms and overall health outcomes of physical activity and lifestyle approaches for chronic disease risk reduction.

The conference features nationally prominent speakers from government, medicine and science, public health, philanthropy and industry. Keynote speaker is David Buchner, director of the masters of public health program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who directed the physical activity and health branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for nine years.

Among other speakers are Steven N. Blair, professor in the Departments of Exercise Science and Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of South Carolina and a recognized authority on exercise and health; I-Min Lee, professor of medicine in the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard and author of a recent widely-reported article linking physical inactivity to 1 in 10 deaths worldwide; Toni Yancey, professor in the Department of Health Services at UCLA and co-director of the UCLA Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Equity; and James Sallis, Distinguished Professor of Family and Preventive Medicine at the University of California, San Diego and director of Active Living Research.

The conference, “National Strategic Summit: Roadmap for Physical Activity, Lifestyle and Comparative Effectiveness Research,” is aimed at health practitioners, educators and students, with online pre-registration until Oct. 31. On-site registration fees apply afterward.

For more information and registration, go to