THE QUESTION Quinoa has gained popularity among people with celiac disease, who need a gluten-free diet. However, lab tests have shown that the grain can stimulate an allergic response similar to that caused by foods containing gluten. What do tests in humans show?
THIS STUDY involved 19 adults with celiac disease, mostly women in their late 50s. For six weeks, they added 50 grams (about 1.8 ounces) of quinoa to their daily gluten-free diets. Participants could choose the cooking method, but most ate quinoa flakes as a cereal for breakfast. Everyone was given a battery of tests, and 10 participants also had upper gastrointestinal endoscopies and biopsies at the beginning and end of the study. Some participants experienced mild abdominal pain for the first week or two. However, quinoa was tolerated well overall and did not exacerbate celiac disease. Also, the participants’ cholesterol levels, on average, dropped slightly during the study period.
WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? People with celiac disease, who must not consume foods containing gluten — a protein found in wheat, rye and barley — because gluten will damage their small intestine. Gluten is also present in more than foods, including some medications, lip balms, vitamins and glues; people with celiac must avoid these products, too. About 2 million people in the United States have celiac disease, which is genetic.
CAVEATS This was a relatively small study. Some data came from daily symptom diaries kept by the participants. Whether quinoa would be safe for long-term use was not tested, nor was consumption of larger amounts of the grain.
FIND THIS STUDY Jan. 21 online issue of the American Journal of Gastroenterology.
The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.