'Gluten-free' is not just for food anymore
Tom Murray, Stephanie Graham
After being diagnosed with celiac disease, Caroline Shannon-Karasik wiped gluten off her menu.
"I was experiencing the typical stomach pains and gastrointestinal issues," Caroline recalls.
Her diet isn't the only thing that required a makeover. She says, "I was really surprised to find out that something like shampoo or toothpaste would have gluten."
While most of us think of gluten as lurking solely in food, it's commonly used as a binder in products like medication, cosmetics, oral care, skin care, and even children's toys.
Now, a growing number of these items are being marketed, or formulated, gluten-free.
The Mayo Clinic's Dr. Joseph Murray believes the trend is an extension of the gluten-free food frenzy. "Gluten is becoming almost fashionable to avoid."
For those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, gluten-free, non-food products may be necessary. The amount of gluten it takes to cause harmful side effects varies from person to person, and little is known about the levels found in individual products.
"Patients who have celiac disease in particular must avoid any source of gluten where the gluten can get into their bodies," Dr. Murray explains.
That's why experts recommend patients choose lipstick, mouthwash, and toothpaste that are gluten-free. Alice Bast with the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness says, "It is extremely important for those with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity to make sure that the medications they're taking are indeed gluten-free."
That's because when gluten is absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract, symptoms can be triggered, like diarrhea, bloating, headache, abdominal pain, and fatigue.
"Even if they're ingesting gluten and get no symptoms, they can have significant damage to the intestine with ongoing low-level exposure," Dr. Murray warns.
As far as other products, experts believe gluten isn't absorbed by the skin. For children with celiac, the rules are a little different. Parents should stick with body lotions, toys, even arts and crafts, that are gluten-free, since what's in their hands will likely end up in their mouths.
Right now, gluten-free products are not regulated, but it's still important to read labels.
"Know the words wheat, rye, and barley and their derivatives, and call manufacturers," Best suggests.
If you have a severe allergy to wheat, Dr. Murray says it's important to avoid products with gluten altogether - even those that are applied to the skin.