Safety of occasional ingestion of gluten in patients with celiac disease: A real-life study

Luca Elli, Karla Bascuñán, Lorenzo Di Lernia, Maria Teresa Bardella, Luisa Doneda, Laura Soldati, Stefania Orlando, Francesca Ferretti, Vincenza Lombardo, Giulio Barigelletti, Alice Scricciolo, Sabrina Fabiano, Maurizio Vecchi, Leda Roncoroni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Gluten-free diet (GFD) decreases the quality of life of celiac disease (CD) patients, who frequently ask to occasionally ingest gluten-containing food. We evaluated CD patients reporting voluntary and occasional transgressions to their GFD. Methods: From October 2017 to September 2018, the patients reporting occasional and voluntary gluten ingestion (GFD-noncompliant) were prospectively enrolled. These patients underwent clinical examination, blood tests, duodenal biopsy, capsule enteroscopy (CE), and a validated food-frequency questionnaire (FFQ) assessing the frequency and quantity of gluten intake. Mortality was calculated and compared to the general population. A group of patients on strict GFD (GFD-adherent) acted as controls. Results: One thousand three hundred seventy-eight CD patients were evaluated during the study period. One hundred nine (8%) reported occasional (weekly or monthly) voluntary ingestion of gluten. The mean gluten intake was 185.2 ± 336.9 g/year, and the duration of their incorrect GFD was 8.6 ± 6.9 years. Among the noncompliant patients, 57% did not present any histological alteration; furthermore, the Marsh score profile was not different between compliant and noncompliant patients. Seventy percent did not present any alteration at CE. Seventy-five percent of patients reported no gastrointestinal symptoms after gluten ingestion. Twenty-three percent of patients in the GFD-noncompliant group presented positive tTG-IgA. No association was found between gluten intake, clinical symptoms, and biomarkers. Mortality was not different between the groups and the general population. Conclusions: Our results are that in a real-life scenario, a group of CD patients on long-term gluten intake showed no significant clinical symptoms or small bowel damage, thus suggesting that a degree of tolerance towards gluten consumption can be reached.

Original languageEnglish
Article number42
JournalBMC Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 16 2020


  • Celiac disease
  • Gluten
  • Gluten-free diet

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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