Gluten is only in Foods – Right?

Gluten is only in Foods – Right?

When you walk down the aisles of your grocery store, signs for “Gluten-free” are now a common sight. Gluten is found in many things we eat. But did you ever think about the possibility that gluten may be present in the drugs you take every day?

Celiac disease affects about 1% of the population. It is a genetic disorder where your body attacks itself. Some common symptoms include: chronic diarrhea, weight loss, bloating and even stunted growth. When people with celiac disease eat products with gluten, inflammation occurs. Gluten contains a toxic component called gliadin that is hard to digest. It stays in the small intestine and causes inflammation. This inflammation can cause changes to the lining of your small intestine. As little as 50 mg per day of gluten can cause damage to your intestines. A complication of celiac disease is cancer.

How Is It Treated?

The main treatment for patients with celiac disease is a strict, gluten-free diet. This diet must be followed for life. Symptoms can come back if patients do not follow their diet. It is important to know what to stay away from so that you can avoid symptoms, and possible complications that may arise from eating gluten.

Gluten in Foods:

Many food products are now labeled as gluten-free. For those that aren’t, here are some things to look out for:

Grains/flours should you avoid
  • Wheat (including: spelt, kamut, semolina, triticale)
  • Rye
  • Barley (including malt)
Grains/flours that are safe
  • Rice
  • Teff
  • Amaranth
  • Oats
  • Buckwheat
  • Soybeans
  • Corn
  • Tapioca
  • Millet
  • Flax
  • Quinoa
  • Potato flour
  • Sorghum
Gluten in Medicines:

Glutens are also in some medications, vitamins, supplements, and cosmetics. Gluten is generally part of the inactive ingredients. They do not cause a reaction in your body. They are used for several reasons. They can be used in powders to keep the powder from sticking to itself. They can be a vehicle to deliver a drug into the body. They can also be used to absorb water to help tablets break up and dissolve in the body.

The FDA does not regulate inactive ingredients as tightly as active ingredients. Some over-the-counter medications will list if they are gluten-free. However, this is not required by the FDA. Therefore, you should always check the ingredients.

Even if a product is gluten-free, it may still be contaminated with gluten. This makes it harder to figure out the gluten content of a product. It usually means that you will have to call the manufacturer to make sure a product has not been contaminated during the manufacturing process.

Names to look for in the inactive ingredients:

Ingredients you should avoid Ingredients you should ask your pharmacist about Ingredients that are safe
  • Whole grains
  • Grain flour
  • Starch grain
  • Barley-based brown rice syrup
  • Wheat-based dextrin
  • Maltodextrin
  • Dextrates
  • Nonwheat-based dextrins
  • Alcohol
  • Polyethylene glycol
  • Glycerin
  • Starches that come from corn, potato or tapioca
  • Sucrose
  • Honey
  • Dextrose
  • Dextrans
  • Fructose
  • Corn syrup solids
  • Acacia
  • Agar
  • Alginates
  • Carrageenan
  • Gellan gum
  • Guar gum
  • Xanthan gum
  • Hydroxypropylcellulose
  • Methylcellulose
  • Microcrystalline cellulose
  • Sodium carboxymethylcellulose
  • Polyvinylpyrrolidone
  • Crospovidone
  • Croscarmellose sodium
Steps You Can Take

It is important to tell your pharmacist if you need gluten-free products. Ask your pharmacist to put this information on your profile at the pharmacy. If you are unsure about whether a medication contains gluten or is possibly tainted, check the ingredients.

So me Internet-based sites with usefulpatient information and patient education include:

If you are still unsure then call, or have your pharmacist call, the manufacturer. Only 5 in 100 pharmaceutical companies have a gluten-free policy. Therefore, you should always check a company’s gluten policy. At the website,, you can find a list of toll free numbers for manufacturers. Every product has a lot number. It is handy to have this before calling so that you can give this information to the manufacturer.

It is important to keep in mind that drug companies sometimes change the inactive ingredients or manufacturing process of their products. Every so often, check to see if the gluten status of a product is the same. If a product says “new formulation,” “new product appearance,” or “new manufacturer” the gluten content should be rechecked.

Take the gluten out of your life. Don’t be a glutton for gluten. Remember, even a small amount of gluten can cause inflammation, and uncomfortable symptoms such as diarrhea and bloating.

Jennifer Weimer, PharmD Candidate 2011 Consumer Health Information Corporation and South Carolina College of Pharmacy and Dorothy L. Smith, Pharm.D. CEO and President Consumer Health Information Corporation McLean, Virginia

© 2010 Consumer Health Information Corporation. All rights reserved.

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