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Gluten-Free Diets Might Actually Be Dangerous For Children, Cause Gastrointestinal Problems

By Tyler MacDonald | May 14, 2016 03:39 PM EDT

Although gluten-free diets are necessary for people with celiac disease that experience gut problems from gluten, its status as a "health food" seems to have caused a trend of even people without the disease reaching for gluten-free products. However, a new commentary sheds light on the dangers that a gluten-free diet can have for children who are not celiac.

Approximately one percent of the adult population has celiac disease, which makes a gluten-free diet a necessity. However, no research has yet to reveal any connection between gluten consumption in children and intestinal problems, and a lack of gluten could even be dangerous for children.

Gluten-free processed foods might lack nutrients essential for the development of children, including vitamin B complex, vitamin D, fiver, calcium, magnesium and iron. Eating a gluten-free diet as a child can create a vitamin deficiency that could cause gastrointestinal problems.

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The nutritional deficiencies caused by a gluten-free diet in children could also lead to an increase in fat and calorie intake.

"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 Jennifer Willoughby, pediatric dietician at Cleveland Clinic Children's. "They lose out on a lot of B vitamins, a lot of iron, and fiber if the diet is not followed in a proper way."

Another serious danger lies in the possibility that a gluten-free diet could mask symptoms of more serious diseases in children.

"They were trying to treat some sort of condition or symptom, such as an abdominal pain, diarrhea, headaches, or problems with attention," said Norelle Reilly, author of the commentary. "Kids will often improve no matter what you do. So it's often hard to tell if they're improved because of a dietary change."

Ultimately, gluten-free diets should be chosen after consideration with a health practitioner, especially for your child, and going gluten-free should be an option reserved for situations where it is a necessity.

The findings were published in the May 13 issue of The Journal of Pediatrics.

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