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Question:
I recently read that a gluten-free diet may increase your exposure to arsenic and mercury. Is this true?

Answer:
It is true that a study found that people who reported to be on gluten-free diets had levels of arsenic in their urine that averaged about 50% to 90% more than found in people not eating gluten-free diets. The study (based on the U.S. population from 2009 to 2014) also found 70% more mercury in the blood of gluten-free eaters. 

The researchers speculated that rice may be contributing to the higher concentrations of arsenic in gluten-free eaters because it is the primary substitute grain in gluten-free products. It is true that certain rice products are known to contain higher amounts of arsenic, particularly brown rice.

However, a careful review of this study by ConsumerLab.com indicates that the amounts of arsenic and mercury found do not pose a health risk and, furthermore, the primary source of these compounds is quite possibly not gluten-free foods. See the full answer for the details >> 

(If you are on a gluten-free diet, be aware that oats are naturally gluten-free, but that some oat cereals contain significant amounts of gluten due to cross-contamination during processing. See ConsumerLab.com's Oat Cereals Review for results by product -- none of which, by the way, were found to be contaminated with heavy metals such as arsenic.)

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Also see ConsumerLab.com's answers to these questions:



How can I find supplements that are gluten-free on ConsumerLab.com? >>

I've heard that rice has high levels of arsenic. Does that mean rice bran oil does too? >>



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Comments
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Vicky11724   February 16, 2017
Some of us have real Celiac Disease, an auto-immune disorder diagnosed with testing and biopsy. We cannot simply choose to eat a gluten-free diet or not. It is not a health-conscious choice but a medical necessity.

Because we cannot realistically choose to go "off" a gluten-free diet, I hope someone finds out the real cause of the elevated arsenic and mercury. Our family of 5 have 2 celiacs, as well as relatives outside the immediate family with the auto-immune disorder.

We did not increase our fish consumption after diagnoses in 2013, but we have probably increased our rice consumption somewhat. I'll have to get our doctor to test for arsenic and mercury levels.

Jacquie11726   February 16, 2017
Some types and brands of rice have far less arsenic than others. See ConsumerLab's fine analyses for tips on which rice and rice products to use.

ConsumerLab.com   February 16, 2017
You can learn more about arsenic in rice in our warning posted at https://www.consumerlab.com/recall_detail.asp?recallid=10363

wayne 11722   February 16, 2017
one more reason to be grain free!

ConsumerLab.com   February 16, 2017
Hi Wayne - Actually, whole grains should not be dismissed -- they are an excellent source of fiber, protein, carbs and many other macro and micro nutrients. And people who need to be gluten-free can find grains which don't contain gluten.

Richard11719   February 16, 2017
A very recent TV programme in the U.K. investigated this very problem and interviewed a scientist who was studying rice contamination. He found that soaking brown rice in water overnight leached out far more arsenic than other methods such as rinsing. However I would be interested to know whether this method leached out other beneficial nutrients as well! This wasn't investigated on the programme.
Richard Burden N.D. D.O. Swansea, U.K.

Deanne11718   February 16, 2017
Centers for Science in the Public Interest stated studies they have evaluated which shows that arsenic levels are high in brown rice. Brown rice grows in soils naturally high in arsenic, and seems to concentrate arsenic. Thus they recommend brown rice be rinsed six times before it is cooked. Arsenic is water-soluble and the six rinses removes virtually all of the arsenic.
Deanne, MD

Brian11720   February 16, 2017
What precisely does it mean to "rinse six times"? Immerse it six times? I put my brown rice in a steel mesh strainer and run a spray of cold water over it for a long time. But I've always wondered if that is sufficient.

micheline11730   February 16, 2017
Probably better to let it soak for a while. Other people recommend to cook it in lot of water and drain it.

alan11741   February 20, 2017
brown rice is white rice before all the bran & other nutrients are "milled."
"milled:" sanded, filed, and scraped down to bare starch.

This CL Answer initially posted on 2/15/2017. Last updated 2/15/2018.

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