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Medically Approved

Is a gluten-free diet dangerous if you don't have celiac disease?

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When to follow a gluten-free dietRisksSeeking helpSummary
A gluten-free diet is a first-line treatment for celiac disease. Adopting the diet when you do not have celiac disease can lead to nutritional deficiencies and other negative health effects.
Medically reviewed by Imashi Fernando, MS, RDN, CDCES
Written by Cathy Lovering
Updated on

People who adopt a strict gluten-free diet eliminate all wheat, rye, barley, and other gluten-containing foods. There are many foods you might not expect to contain gluten, such as processed foods and additives, so people with celiac disease must check their ingredient lists closely.

If you don’t have celiac disease and follow this diet, you can miss out on the health benefits of foods that contain gluten. These foods are often a source of essential micronutrients.

Other possible side effects from avoiding gluten can also occur, such as digestive issues and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. 

Should you follow a gluten-free diet if you don’t have celiac disease?

Several loaves of bread on a pink surface to depict the dangers of a gluten-free diet if you do not have celiac disease.
Juan Moyano/Stocksy United

If you follow a gluten-free diet and don’t have celiac disease, you may not get all the nutrients the body needs for optimal health. 

Going gluten-free is necessary for people with celiac disease. This chronic autoimmune condition damages the small intestine, which can lead to long-term digestive issues. A key role of the small intestine is to help your body absorb nutrients, a process celiac disease can disrupt.  

When someone with celiac disease switches to a gluten-free diet, their symptoms usually improve. Following this eating pattern allows the small intestine to heal and can prevent more damage to the organ. 

Other conditions, such as wheat allergy or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, may also be triggered by foods containing gluten. These conditions do not damage the small intestine.

If your symptoms are severe, a doctor may also prescribe steroids. Examples include azathioprine (Imuran) and budesonide (Uceris).

As important as a gluten-free diet is for people with celiac disease, it may not be appropriate if you don’t have the condition. Research shows you may not get enough of certain vitamins and have a higher risk for negative health effects. 

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What are the risks of following a gluten-free diet?

By strictly following a gluten-free diet, a person typically eliminates foods that contain gluten. These include:

  • wheat
  • semolina
  • rye
  • barley
  • packaged, processed, or frozen foods containing gluten

As a result, they can become deficient in nutrients contained in those foods. They also do not have the benefits of gluten-containing foods known to protect health.

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A gluten-free diet can result in deficiencies in:

  • calcium
  • iron
  • magnesium
  • zinc
  • vitamin B12
  • folate
  • vitamin D

There may also be other health risks besides these nutritional deficiencies. 

A 2018 paper stated that gluten-free products may lack dietary fiber, riboflavin, thiamine, niacin, as well as folate, and iron. This is because some manufacturers do not enrich gluten-free products with these nutrients.

The same source says gluten-free products can have higher levels of trans fat and salt. A gluten-free diet may mean less dietary fiber, so people on this diet can be at greater risk for constipation. 

A 2017 study that followed more than 100,000 people without celiac disease over 26 years found those who consumed the most amount of gluten had a lower incidence of coronary heart disease than those who consumed the least. The authors concluded that avoiding gluten may result in reduced consumption of whole grains, which can help protect cardiovascular health.

Another 2017 study found higher levels of heavy metals in people who followed a gluten-free diet compared to those who did not. The metals found included arsenic, mercury, and dimethylarsonic acid.

If you have celiac disease, you will usually have yearly checkups to monitor your health and test for any deficiencies.

When should you speak with a doctor

Consider speaking with a healthcare professional if you’re not getting the results you’re expecting on a gluten-free diet. For example, if you still experience symptoms, such as digestive issues, a doctor can help find the underlying cause.

It may also be useful to talk with a healthcare professional if you have signs of a nutritional deficiency — not getting enough folate, iron, and vitamin B12 can lead to anemia.

Signs of anemia include:

  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • shortness of breath
  • dizziness

Following a gluten-free diet can also lead to a low consumption of calcium and vitamin D, which can increase your risk for osteoporosis. Osteoporosis affects bone mineral density and bone mass, which can lead to fractures.

A healthcare professional can diagnose a deficiency and recommend ways to increase your intake of the nutrients you are missing.


A gluten-free diet can help people with celiac disease manage their symptoms by allowing the small intestine to heal and preventing further damage. 

However, it can also lead to a deficiency in vital micronutrients and is associated with risk factors for negative health outcomes. If you do not have celiac disease, you may want to consider these risks before adopting a gluten-free diet.

If you’re following a gluten-free diet and are concerned that you may be deficient in certain nutrients, consider speaking with a healthcare professional. They can help assess and improve your nutrient levels.

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