You see the words “gluten free” plastered over nearly any food item with a label, but how often is the distinction actually true? In a new study conducted at the Celiac Disease Center at the Columbia University Medical Center, researchers were shocked to find that many probiotic supplements that claimed to be “gluten free” actually had traces of gluten inside. According to News Maine, this can pose a serious risk to celiac patients who think they’re consuming a safe product.
The study looked at 22 different probiotic supplements, sold as tablets containing bacteria that are beneficial to the digestive system. Probiotics are found in dairy products like yogurt and cheese, and these foods are widely recognized as promoting good digestive health.
The majority of the supplements in the sample were labeled “gluten free,” but the researchers found that about 55% of the probiotics sporting the label tested positive for gluten.
Gluten is found in wheat, barley, and rye products, which are used in a vast amount of other food products. People allergic to the protein find it difficult to avoid, and thus must follow extremely strict diets. According to WebMD, when someone is allergic to gluten, the body’s immune system responds to its presence with a painful reaction, sometimes causing damage to the intestinal lining.
Gluten allergies can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, weight loss, mood swings, and in rare cases a nasty skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis. This symptom can be easily treated with medication.
Nearly one in 133 Americans suffer from this allergy, and in recent years the market has exploded with products that appeal to people who can’t eat any gluten.
The responsibility to avoid gluten ultimately lies on the person who can’t eat any of it, but the study brings up a troubling notion – that the labels on the food we buy may not actually be telling the whole truth. Though the gluten concentration in the probiotic supplements tested was never more than 20 parts per million, which is the FDA’s accepted safe level, the risk of consuming something that you believed wasn’t present in your food is serious.