Natural Foods Merchandiser

Nutrition Q&A

Q: Can people with celiac disease eat oats?

A: This is a question that still needs more research. Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disorder of the small bowel. Upon exposure to gluten, the body modifies the protein, and the immune system reacts with the bowel tissue, causing an inflammatory reaction that damages the small intestine.

Definitive evidence about the safety of oats for people on a gluten-free diet is not available, though research is being done. The most recent study on the subject, published in a 2007 issue of the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, showed that celiac patients can consume oats with no risk of adverse immunological effects. These researchers looked at a group of celiac patients who consumed oats for at least five years. They found no damage on biopsy studies of the small intestine.1

In addition, two other reviews came to the conclusion that few, if any, celiac patients have any problem with oats.2,3 However, they did not say "no patients." The problem appears to be cross-contamination with other gluten-containing grains. Perhaps the best advice comes from the Canadian Celiac Association. It suggests that oats uncontaminated with other gluten-containing grains and taken in limited quantities are safe for most individuals with celiac disease.

However, the oat product must fulfill the gluten-free standards set by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada. Under these guidelines, there are established requirements for growing, processing, purity testing and labeling of pure oats.4 Because no such regulations exist in the United States, and cross contamination is a concern for celiacs who want to try oats, celiac patients should contact oat millers directly to ask them whether they have done any testing for gluten cross-contamination.

Q: Will maitake mushroom extracts help with diabetes?

A: Maitake has been consumed in China and Japan for thousands of years. The scientific name, Grifola frondosa, refers to a mythological beast, the griffon, which is half lion and half eagle —symbolizing the mushroom's potent powers. Extracts of maitake have been used to treat many conditions including some cancers, human immunodeficiency virus, chronic fatigue syndrome, hepatitis and elevated blood pressure.

Some preliminary evidence indicates that it may help improve blood-sugar levels in diabetics. One rat study showed that fraction SX of maitake mushroom lowered fasting blood glucose over the short term (three to six weeks).5 A more recent study in mice found that an alpha-glucan from the fruit body of maitake mushrooms seemed to improve cell response to insulin. The research showed that insulin receptors on certain cells were more responsive to the effects of insulin when exposed to the mushroom extract.6 This is important, as it suggests that maitake may work by improving insulin sensitivity and ameliorating insulin resistance of peripheral target tissues, which are underlying problems in most people with type 2 diabetes. However, the research on maitake and humans with diabetes is sparse.7 While it is suggestive, there is not enough data for me to highly recommend it to treat diabetes.

1. Kemppainen T, et al. No observed local immunological response at cell level after five years of oats in adult celiac disease. Scand J Gastroenterol 2007;42(1):54-9.
2. Garsed K, Scott BB. Can oats be taken in a gluten-free diet? A systematic review. Scand J Gastroenterol 2007;42(2):171-8.
3. Haboubi NY, et al. Celiac disease and oats: a systematic review. Postgrad Med J 2006;82(972):672-8.
4. Rashid M, et al. Consumption of pure oats by individuals with celiac disease: a position statement by the Canadian Celiac Association. Can J Gastroenterol 2007;21(10):649-51.
5. Talpur N, et al. Effects of niacin-bound chromium, Maitake mushroom fraction SX and (-)-hydroxycitric acid on the metabolic syndrome in aged diabetic Zucker fatty rats. Mol Cell Biochem 2003;252(1-2):369-77.
6. Hong L, et al. Anti-diabetic effect of an alpha-glucan from fruit body of maitake (Grifola frondosa) on KK-Ay mice. J Pharm Pharmacol 2007;59(4):575-82.
7. Konno S, et al. A possible hypoglycaemic effect of maitake mushroom on Type 2 diabetic patients. Diabet Med 2001;18(12):1010.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIX/number 4/p. 38

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