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.
Now a growing number of everyday non-food products, like lipstick and toothpaste, are being made gluten-free. Is the trend hype, or can it be helpful?
After being diagnosed with celiac disease, a gluten intolerance disorder, Caroline Shannon-Karasik wiped gluten off her menu. But her diet wasn't the only thing that required a makeover.
"I was really surprised to find out that something like shampoo or toothpaste would have gluten," Shannon-Karasik said.
Gluten is commonly used as a binder in products like medication, cosmetics, oral and skin care, and even children's toys. Now a growing number of these items are being marketed 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," he said.
But for those like Shannon-Karasik with celiac disease, gluten-free non-food products may be necessary.
The amount of gluten it takes to cause harmful side effects varies from person to person.
"Patients who have celiac disease, in particular, must avoid any source of gluten where the gluten can get into their bodies," Dr. Murray said.
When gluten is absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract, symptoms can be triggered, such as 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," explained Murray.
Experts believe gluten isn't absorbed by the skin, so products like shampoo may not need to be gluten-free.
"That's not something that you need to worry about, unless you have a specific allergy," said Alice Bast of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.
But for children with celiac disease, the rules are different. Parents should stick to body lotions, arts and crafts, and even toys that are gluten-free.
"Because children will be children, and what's in their hands will end up in their mouths," Murray said.
Right now, gluten-free products are not regulated, but it's important to read labels. Bast suggests knowing the words and derivatives of wheat, rye and barley, and call manufacturers if necessary.
As for Shannon-Karasik, she says she likes to use everything gluten-free, from lotion to lip balm.
"It brings me peace of mind," she said.
Always be sure to talk to a pharmacist about any medications you're taking when it comes to gluten intolerance and other allergies.
Check out the Mayo Clinic's list of foods that can and cannot be consumed by those with gluten intolerance here.
Did you know Toledo has many restaurants that offer gluten-free options? You can view the extensive list here.
This blog explores cosmetic options for those with gluten intolerance.
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