Gluten in Medications:
Could it be that a bill requiring labeling for gluten in medications is in sight? Maybe. There’s new proposed legislation, and of course, like anything else, the amount of support Congress hears will likely play a role in whether or not this bill is successfully passed. Gluten in Medicine Disclosure Act, was brought to the floor by Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) and Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.). If you have any connections on the Hill, this is the time for a not-so-subtle nudge. We can all make our voices heard! American Celiac Disease Alliance has an online system to send a letter to your representative. You can also thank the two for their support: @RepTimRyan and @NitaLowey on Twitter.
Why it’s so important:
We know that almost all packaged foods on the grocery shelf in the U.S. will follow FDA labeling, which mandates the clear labeling of all common allergens, which includes wheat. (Barley, rye and oats are not covered under this law). However, currently there are no laws for medications, and finding accurate and timely information is much more challenging.
Standard prescription labels include only the active ingredients. So if your doctor writes you a prescription for penicillin, the bottle would say x mg of penicillin. It won’t say what anything about any fillers, binders, coatings, excipients, etc. although these substances are a part of most medications. These can, of course, include gluten.
The PDR (Physician’s Desk Reference) often has a list of ingredients but these are tremendously hard to decipher, and most don’t give a source for ingredients. This information requires calling the manufacturer, and waiting an answer from companies. Ideally, get support from a doctor’s office or pharmacist. Many drug companies will not answer consumer inquiries directly. Generally name-brand drugs do have a consistent list of ingredients, but with generics, different fillers are used at different times, depending on cost at a particular moment in time. So one batch may have cornstarch, the next may have wheat starch, and so on. And, of course, a the name-brand may be gluten-free, but that does not necessarily mean anything about the generic drug.
As a dietitian and someone who has had to make those calls for myself and others, I feel like this is a potentially dangerous and unfair system. People who need medications immediately often do not have the time, energy or mental clarity to make a variety of phone calls and wait for answers. It’s important that steps be taken for longer term changes in policy to ensure the safety of people who need to strictly avoid gluten.
For the meanwhile,
- Check into all of the medications and supplements you take.
- When possible have a knowledgeable doctor or pharmacist call and make inquiries, as this may be a faster route to get information.
- As with any inquiries, do probe further because even health professionals vary in their knowledge and understanding of Celiac Disease and gluten. (I have had pharmacists say to me that they don’t see “gluten” listed as an ingredient, so it must be safe).
- It may also be necessary for your doctor to specifically order name-brand drugs in certain cases to ensure they are safe for people with Celiac Disease.
- If you have other food sensitivities/allergies and cannot get answers or safe medications, a compounding pharmacy may be a great option, as they make medications from scratch. In the DC metro area, that includes the Alexandria Medical Arts Pharmacy in VA and Village Green in DC.
There are a few free resources out there that can help, like www.glutenfreedrugs.com. However, ingredients in medications can always change, so these lists can best be seen as a starting point. Here’s a flyer from the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists on gluten in medications and a nice article from Dec 2011 in Living Without, too. Here’s a list for contact information for various supplement companies.
I’m a big fan of Gluten-Free Dee’s Buy One Give One Campaign to support gluten-free foodbanks. I’m hopeful that some day we’ll have a gluten-free food pantry/food bank near here, and if anyone has a connection to help get that started, please email me!
Harris Whole Health offers individual sessions, family sessions and group classes to help people eat healthier and feel better! Cheryl works with people to feel and look their best with a range of specialties, including Celiac Disease, food allergies, pregnancy, breastfeeding, vegetarian and vegan diets, preventing diseases and “whole foods” eating. Let’s get you on your way to achieving your goals. For an appointment with Cheryl Harris, Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist, please click here, email or call 571-271-8742.