Alternative Medicine Websites Make False Claims About Gluten-Free Diet, Study Finds

Researchers have found that many alternative and complementary medicine websites make claims about the gluten-free diet and celiac disease that are false and offer treatments that are ineffective and unproven. 

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“We know that complementary and alternative medicine is widespread, and people seek out acupuncture, homeopathy and naturopathy for a variety of reasons, and we also know that avoidance of gluten and the popularity of the gluten-free diet has exploded in recent years, far out of proportion to the prevalence of celiac disease,” said senior study author Dr. Benjamin Lebwohl, director of clinical research at the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University in New York City.

Researchers wanted to learn whether there was a connection between the gluten-free diet and alternative medicine, so they looked at claims on websites for 500 alternative medicine providers in the 10 most populous U.S. cities. They looked at chiropractors, naturopaths, homeopaths, acupuncturists and integrative medicine practitioners. 

Of these 500 websites, 36 percent made at least one claim regarding celiac disease, gluten sensitivity or a gluten-free diet. 

60 percent of those marketing claims were either false or unproven, according to the study. 

“This is of concern, given the popularity of complementary and alternative medicine and the fact that misinformation on this topic can lead to misdiagnosis of celiac disease, unnecessarily restrictive (and possibly unhealthy) diets, and delays in diagnosis of other conditions that may be underlying the patient’s symptoms,” Lebwohl said.

According to the study, naturopath clinic websites have the highest rates of advertising at least one diagnosis or treatment for celiac disease, followed by integrative medicine clinics.  

The study was published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology and concluded that, as many claims made by complementary and alternative medicine practices have false or unproven claims, there is “a need for increased regulation…to protect the public.” 

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