Quinoa, coeliac disease and gluten-free diet

Professor Paul Ciclitera sent us the abstract of a paper he has recently co-authored – from which it can be concluded that quinoa is safe for those on a gluten-free diet.

June 2014

Quinoa, coeliac disease and gluten-free diet
Corresponding authors: Victor Zevallos and Paul Ciclitira
Nutritional Sciences, Gastroenterology, King's College London, United Kingdom.
Producción Vegetal, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Spain.


Quinoa is an Andean crop with multiple agronomical, nutritional and industrial applications. Coeliac disease (CD) is a condition characterised by an inappropriate immune response to dietary gluten leading to histological damage of the small intestine, an effective treatment is a life-long gluten-free diet (GFD). Quinoa contains low concentrations of gluten and has a distant phylogenetic link with gluten containing cereals (wheat, rye and barley), this prompted consideration of quinoa as a naturally gluten-free product, suitable for patients with CD, although evidence is scant. The present chapter aims to review the current scientific literature pertaining quinoa and coeliac disease.

Initial in-vitro studies examined the suitability of quinoa for patients with CD using the agglutination activity of undifferentiated myeloid leukemia cells (De Vincenzi et al. 1999), measuring concentration of celiac-toxic peptides (Berti et al. 2004) and analysing immune reactivity in T-cell-proliferation studies and organ culture explants (Bergamo et al. 2011). The main limitation of these studies was the use of one non-described cultivar. Recently, we have identified cultivars with putative toxic quinoa peptides that seem to elicit immunological activation of gliadin-specific CD4+ T-cells as well as to elicit secretion of cytokines when cultured with coeliac duodenal biopsies (Zevallos et al. 2012). In-vivo studies are almost absent with the exception of a retrospective review of dietary history of patients eating quinoa (Lee et al. 2009) and our feeding study (Zevallos et al 2013) that show that short term consumption of quinoa is well tolerated among individuals with CD and has a mild hypocholesterolemic effect that could also be relevant for non-CD subject at risk of obesity.

To conclude, results from in-vitro and in-vivo studies indicated that some quinoa cultivars have small amounts of gluten-like proteins which can stimulate immune cells in-vitro, but that do not exacerbate coeliac disease when eating as part of the GFD. Although, further studies evaluating the long term effects of quinoa consumption are needed, based on the current literature we anticipate that quinoa can be safely consumed by CD patients.

More research on the management of coeliac disease


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