March 2, 2013 — Oats are controversial in the gluten-free world: some studies say it's safe for people with celiac disease to consume them, while others do not. Now, a new study out of Ireland comes down firmly on the "safe" side for oats.
The study, published this month in the medical journal Clinical and Experimental Immunology, tested oat consumption — about 10 ounces each week, or about the equivalent of 10 slices of oat bread — on 46 celiacs over the course of a year. The researchers kept track of symptoms reported and also performed biopsies to look for intestinal damage.
What they found backs up other research indicating that oats appear safe for the majority of people with celiac disease. In intestinal biopsies, the study subjects showed no change or, in some cases, even improvement in their intestinal villi (the tiny, finger-like projections on the inside of your small intestine that are damaged by gluten consumption in celiac disease).
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The study subjects also reported no adverse symptoms from their oat consumption, according to the researchers. Finally, celiac blood tests on those people showed no increases in the antibody levels that would indicate ongoing intestinal damage due to the oats.
"To conclude, this study reaffirms the lack of oats immunogenicity and toxicity to celiac patients," the authors wrote. "It also suggests that the antigenic stimulus caused by wheat exposure differs fundamentally from that caused by oats."
If you've been holding back on trying oats, does this mean you should run out and buy some oatmeal? I'd still proceed cautiously. Despite the rosy conclusions of this study, other medical research indicates that a fairly large percentage of celiacs — perhaps 10% to 15% — also react quite badly to oats.
If you have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, you should know that there simply aren't any studies indicating whether or not oats are safe for you — anecdotal reports indicate some people are fine with oats, while others can't eat them without bad symptoms.
I advise everyone with a gluten problem (both celiac and gluten-sensitive) to move extremely slowly when it comes to experimenting with oats — start with a few teaspoons or even less (rather than with a big bowl of oatmeal) and see how your body reacts before adding more.
Also, make certain that the oatmeal you're buying is considered gluten-free (i.e., not cross-contaminated by wheat, barley and/or rye).
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