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Does this gluten make me look fat?

Links between gluten and weight gain haven’t been seen so much in observational evidence, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. This animal study is one of the first to look at a potential mechanism

Study under review: Wheat gluten intake increases weight gain and adiposity associated with reduced thermogenesis and energy expenditure in an animal model of obesity.

Introduction

Wheat was introduced to the human diet about 9,500 years ago in the Mediterranean region as part of the “Neolithic Revolution,” when humans began to transition from hunting and gathering food to settled agriculture. Today, worldwide wheat production is estimated at 723 million tonnes, and the average U.S. citizen consumes roughly 132 pounds of wheat per year.

Gluten is the main protein complex found in wheat and related grains such as rye and barley, making up about 80% of their total protein content. Gluten is a unique protein in that our bodies do not possess the enzymes necessary to break it down completely (we do break most of it down), allowing fragments of the gluten protein to persist in the small intestine. In susceptible individuals, this can trigger three main forms[1] of gluten reactions: wheat allergy, celiac disease, and non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

Gluten-free diets are clearly recommended for people with celiac disease or for people with gluten sensitivity. Yet, the popularity of gluten-free diets for the treatment of countless other health conditions has exploded in recent years. Sales of gluten-free foods grew 34% to nearly $1 billion over the last five years, and gluten avoidance is commonly advised for both weight loss and chronic conditions.

Yet there is little to no evidence to date supporting the use of a gluten-free diet in facilitating weight loss. In 2013, a group of researchers published the first controlled study[2] investigating the effects of wheat gluten on a mouse model of diet-induced obesity. Their results suggested that gluten exposure was associated with weight gain, but failed to identify mechanisms explaining this link. The current study was conducted by the same group of researchers and aimed to fill this knowledge gap.

Gluten-free diets are well-researched for the treatment of individuals with immune-mediated gluten sensitivities. However, they’ve been increasingly used for numerous other health conditions, such as obesity, despite a relative lack of evidence supporting a link between gluten consumption and weight gain. The current study sought to investigate whether wheat gluten causes weight gain, and explored potential mechanisms.

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