When we think of adhering to a gluten-free diet, we often only think of it in the context of food and drink. However, some prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications may contain traces of gluten.
The FDA regulates gluten-free labels for food and drink. Currently, there are no regulations for labeling drugs that contain gluten or no gluten.
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The good news is that most drugs do not contain gluten, but it’s still important to take precautions if you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance. Your pharmacist can be a tremendous resource to you. Learn more about how your pharmacist can help you avoid gluten in your medications.
What We Know about Gluten in Medications
Unlike food, there is no standard for gluten levels in medications. While it is very rare that ingredients like wheat are used in drug products, there is still the potential for gluten contamination. It just may be not be detectable.
Drug manufacturers also use excipients, which are ingredients that help bind pills together. Some excipients may contain gluten, usually starch. If a pharmacist knows the origin of the excipient, it’s easier to determine the likelihood that it contains gluten.
How the Pharmacist Can Help
It’s best to avoid products that contain no grain derivatives to lower the risk for exposure. While most drug products do not contain gluten, it’s important to research ingredients and their excipients to verify they are gluten-free. Your pharmacist can review every ingredient, specifically inactive ingredients, with you to ensure that it is safe for you to take.
Keep in mind that generics and brand names may use different excipients. If you switch to a different manufacturer, be sure to verify with your pharmacist that the medication is gluten-free.
For over-the-counter drug products, review the “Drug Facts” label for ingredients. Check and make sure the ingredients are safe. If you have any questions, the pharmacist can help you. You can also use online resources like DailyMed to learn more.
What if There is No Gluten-Free Option?
Although it’s rare, some medications may not have a gluten-free formulation. In that case, pharmaceutical compounding is necessary.
Pharmaceutical compounding is when the pharmacist changes the drug to meet the patient’s needs. For example, the pharmacist may change the form of a medication for a patient who can’t swallow pills. They can even add flavor to a medication to make it easier for a child to take. The compounding pharmacist can also reformulate the drug to remove nonessential ingredients, like gluten or lactose.
Most pharmacies have the capabilities to do compounding. Some pharmacies even specialize in compounding. It never hurts to ask your pharmacy if it is accredited, especially if compounding is the only option for you.
Helpful Tips to Avoid Gluten in Medications
Your pharmacist should be able to verify if any medications you take contain gluten. There are some other things you can do to help ensure your medications are gluten-free. Follow these tips if you have Celiac disease or a gluten intolerance:
• Be open and honest with your healthcare team. Inform your physician, pharmacist, and any other healthcare professionals that you are gluten-free.
• Be your own advocate. Your pharmacist should ask about any allergies you have to medications. If they don’t ask about allergies to food, be sure to speak up.
• Don’t stop taking a medication if you experience symptoms. If you’re experiencing the same symptoms you feel when you ingest gluten, don’t stop taking your medications. Talk to your doctor first. You could experience dangerous side effects if you stop medications without your doctor’s consent.
• Fill your prescriptions at one pharmacy. This way, the pharmacist has a record of all of the medications that you take.
• Always read the labels. Whether it’s a prescription drug, multivitamin, or something else, always review the ingredients. Research ingredients online or ask your pharmacist.
• Call the manufacturer. You can also call the manufacturer for more information on ingredients in prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications.
There is a lot of confusion surrounding gluten and medications. While most drugs and supplements will not contain gluten, don’t assume that your medications are safe without checking. Eliminating gluten entirely is still the best treatment for Celiac disease, and even small amounts of gluten exposure can lead to serious health consequences. Your pharmacist is there to help ensure your medications align with your gluten-free diet.