In a finding that is sure to be good news for sufferers of celiac disease, a new study from McMaster University has concluded that eating pure oats is unlikely to produce adverse effects in people with celiac.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune response to ingesting gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. An estimated one out of every 100 people in Canada has celiac, which causes inflammation to the lining of the small intestine and prevents the absorption of nutrients and vitamins. The immune response can lead to a range of symptoms from diarrhea, weight loss and anemia to migraines, depression, bone fractures and cancer.
For many celiacs, maintaining a completely gluten-free diet is difficult. One 2013 study found that for as many as 70 per cent of celiacs, inadvertent gluten ingestion is a common occurrence. Aside from the more obvious foods like breads, pastas and cereals, gluten and gluten protein are found in many commonly available products, sometimes in trace amounts which can, in some sufferers, still produce an immune response.
There are many grains and starches available for those with celiac, such as rice, quinoa, millet and flax, but one cereal grain has been a perennial question mark is oats. While oats do not contain the prolamine plant protein that causes the adverse response in celiacs and they are often listed by national health regulations (like those in Canada) as gluten-free, the research on the topic has been mixed, with some studies reporting adverse health reactions by celiacs.
“The first study suggesting that oats may be harmful for patients with celiac disease was published more than 50 years ago,” says Dr. Elena F. Verdu, a gastroenterology research at the Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute at McMaster University in Hamilton, to Reuters. “Since then, the addition of oats to a gluten-free diet has remained clouded in controversy.”
To that end, Verdu and colleagues conducted a review of 28 studies on the safety of oats for celiacs, with the research showing that although the overall quality of evidence was rated as low and long-term conclusions on diets involving oats were not available, the results indicated that “no deterioration in gastrointestinal symptoms in celiac disease patients consuming oats for 12 months.”
The result is promising, says Verdu. In comparison with other cereals, oats are a good source for proteins, vitamins and minerals. “For a person diagnosed with celiac disease, adding oats to a gluten-free diet could not only increase food options but also help them follow a better gluten-free diet and have a higher quality of life,” said Verdu.
The purity of the oats is nonetheless a key issue, she states, as contamination with other cereal grains is a problem in some products claiming to be made with pure oats. “The purity of oats will depend on the country of origin and local regulations, and this is why we were surprised to see that most recommendations in North America are still based on studies performed in Europe,” said Verdu.
The study is published in the journal Gastroenterology.