A new study published in the journal Epidemiology suggests consumers who eat a gluten-free diet may be at risk for an increased exposure to arsenic and mercury, due to rice-flour which is often used as a substitute for wheat in gluten-free foods.

Researchers from the University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC) School of Public Health noted how “rice is known to bioaccumulate certain toxic materials, including arsenic and mercury from fertilizers, soil, or water, but little is known about the health effects of diets high in rice content.”

"These results indicate that there could be unintended consequences of eating a gluten-free diet," said Maria Argos, assistant professor of epidemiology at the UIC School of Public Health and one of the five authors of the study, in a press release. "But until we perform the studies to determine if there are corresponding health consequences that could be related to higher levels of exposure to arsenic and mercury by eating gluten-free, more research is needed before we can determine whether this diet poses a significant health risk."

During the study, researchers analyzed data from a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which was given between 2009 and 2014. Out of the 7,471 participants, who were between the ages of 6 to 80 years old, who completed the survey, researchers found 73 who reported eating a gluten-free diet.

Compared to those who are not on a gluten-free diet, researchers found individuals who are to have higher-concentrations of arsenic in their urine and mercury in their blood. Specifically researchers found individuals mercury levels were 70 percent higher and arsenic levels were almost twice as high.

"In Europe, there are regulations for food-based arsenic exposure, and perhaps that is something we here in the United States need to consider," said Argos. "We regulate levels of arsenic in water, but if rice flour consumption increases the risk for exposure to arsenic, it would make sense to regulate the metal in foods as well."

Posted on WholeFoods Magazine Online, 2/15/2017