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Health: Gluten Free Products - Hype or Helpful?


By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - A growing number of everyday products, like lipstick and toothpaste, are gluten free. Is the trend hype, or can it be helpful?

May is National Celiac Awareness Month. An estimated one in 141 Americans has celiac disease, but most people don't know they have it.

Avoiding wheat, rye and barley is key for those patients.

After being diagnosed with celiac disease, Caroline Shannon-Karasik stopped eating foods containing gluten.

"I was experiencing the typical stomach pains and gastrointestinal issues," said Caroline.

But her diet isn't the only thing she had to change.

Gluten is also commonly used as a binder in products like medication, cosmetics, toothpaste, and even children's toys

"Patients who have celiac disease in particular must avoid any source of gluten where the gluten can get into their bodies," said Dr. Joseph Murray, a Gastroenterologist.

That's why experts recommend patients choose products that are gluten-free.

"Gluten is becoming almost fashionable to avoid," said Dr. Murray.

For those with celiac disease, 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," said Dr. Murray.

For children with celiac, experts advise they 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.

Alice Bast, President of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, in Ambler, says even though the ingredients aren't always listed, it's important to still read labels.

"Know the words wheat, rye, and barley and their derivatives, and call manufacturers," said Alice.

Gluten is not absorbed by the skin, but 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.

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