Gluten-free frenzy

(WFLX) - For the three million Americans who 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.

Now, a growing number of everyday products, like lipstick and toothpaste, are being created gluten-free.

Is the trend a bunch of hype or can it be helpful?

Take the case of Caroline Shannon-Karasik, who was diagnosed with Celiac disease. "I was experiencing the typical stomach pains and gastrointestinal issues," she said.

Caroline's diet isn't that only thing that required a makeover. "I was really surprised to find out that something like shampoo or toothpaste would have gluten," she said.

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, 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," said Dr. Joseph Murray, a gastroenterologist.

But 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," he said.

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," she said.

As far as 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," she said.

For children with Celiac disease, the rules are a little different. Parents should stick with body lotions, toys, even arts and crafts that are gluten-free. "Because children will be children, and what's in their hands will end up in their mouths," said Dr. Murray.

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," said Dr. Murray.

Caroline likes to use everything from gluten-free lotion to lip balm. "It brings me peace of mind."

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.

For more advice on gluten-free products, head to, and be sure to talk to your pharmacist about any medications you're taking.

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