(CBSMiami) – For the three million Americans that suffer from celiac disease, or the estimated 1.4 million on a gluten-free diet, avoiding foods with wheat, rye, or barley is a daily ritual.
Caroline Shannon-Karasik, who has celiac disease, knew something was wrong before she was diagnosed.
“I was experiencing the typical stomach pains and gastrointestinal issues,” said Caroline.
After being diagnosed, she wiped gluten from her menu. Caroline’s diet isn’t the only thing that required a makeover, however.
I was really surprised to find out that something like shampoo or toothpaste would have gluten,” she admitted.
While most people 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.
Today, a growing number of these products are being marketed, or formulated, as gluten-free.
Dr. Joseph Murray, a gastroenterologist at The Mayo Clinic, believes the trend is an extension of the gluten-free food frenzy.
“Gluten is becoming almost fashionable to avoid,” Dr. Murray said.
For those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, such 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.”
That’s why experts recommend patients choose lipstick, mouthwash and toothpaste that are gluten-free.
“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,” said Alice Bast, of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.
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.â
As for other products, experts believe gluten isn’t absorbed by the skin.
“That’s not something that you need to worry about unless you have a specific allergy,” Bast said.
For children with celiac disease, the rules are a bit different. Parents should stick with body lotions, toys, even arts and crafts, that are gluten-free.
According to Dr. Murray, that’s because “children will be children and what’s in their hands will end up in their mouths.”
Gluten-free products are not yet regulated, but it’s still important to read labels.
“Know the words wheat, rye, barley and their derivatives, and call manufacturers,” Dr. Murray cautions.
“It brings me peace of mind,” she said.
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.
Also, be sure to talk to your pharmacist about any medications you’re taking.