Celiac disease appears to increase your risk of developing atherosclerosis, but a strict gluten-free diet appears to mitigate that risk.
Atherosclerosis is the “hardening” of arteries. In short, it causes heart disease.
It occurs when the walls of your arteries accumulate too many fatty plaques, like cholesterol and triglycerides, without enough systemic means to clean out those plaques (for example, not enough HDL, the “good” cholesterol).
Recent Research on the Gluten-Free Diet’s Impact On Atherosclerosis Risk
In a paper just published this month (June 2013) in the medical journal Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, researchers measured before and after nutritional risk factors as well as before and after ultrasound measurements of carotid thickness. They compared their measurements to a control group of healthy non-celiac and non-gluten-sensitive patients.
They determined that untreated celiac disease increased the risk for atherosclerosis, but that a strict gluten-free diet appeared to reverse this increased risk in celiac patients.
While a wide range of “unfavorable biochemical” risk patterns resulted from celiac disease (hence the many symptoms of gluten intolerance), the researchers hypothesized that the chronic inflammation associated with untreated disease may have been the determining factor.
One disturbing consideration is that in the early stages of atherosclerosis, symptoms may not be evident, or they may remain sub-clinical. This may make this risk particularly dangerous when undiagnosed asymptomatic or silent celiac disease is present.
Sarah’s Speculation: Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity and Atherosclerosis
Because the researchers believe chronic inflammation may play a determining role, I speculate that this same conclusion may be reached if the risk group studied consisted of diagnosed cases of Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS).
I say this because some research suggests NCGS patients may experience greater extraintestinal inflammation than celiac disease patients.
For example, the American Heart Association published research indicating any trigger of pro-inflammatory cytokines could compromise heart vascular health. Recent research into Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity found NCGS patients often have a higher concentration of proteins known as TLRs (“Toll-like receptors”), which produce pro-inflammatory cytokines.
Put it all together, and you have the possibility of people with a non-celiac gluten sensitivity having an even greater risk for atherosclerosis than celiac patients.
(Again, this last bit is just my own speculation.)
This is also an additional signal that chronic inflammation can have serious consequences beyond its origin; thus I encourage you to consider a chronic inflammation diet in addition to removing gluten from your life.