(55% of the probiotic samples tested had gluten—sometimes even when labeled gluten-free)
A new study reveals that many popular probiotics contain traces of gluten, which is worrying for people who may have allergies or food sensitivities to gluten.
Researchers at the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University Medical Center analyzed 22 popular, high-selling probiotics purchased from Amazon.com and several national retail chains. They subjected the products to a test known as liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry and discovered that more than half of products (55%) contained gluten, according to research that was presented on May 16 at Digestive and Disease Week in Washington DC.
Dr Peter Green said that data and the recent news revealing many supplements do not contain what they list on their labels prompted his team to look into the ingredients of probiotics measuring the quantity of gluten in the probiotics.
For a product to be labeled “gluten-free,” the study authors note that gluten needs to be less than 20 parts per million. Their data show that while most of the probiotics that contained gluten had less than that, but several brands contained more than the threshold. More than half of the probiotic brands tested by the researchers claimed to be gluten-free on their label.
Last year, doctors at Columbia University found that people with celiac disease frequently use probiotic supplements, but that those who take these products tend to experience more symptoms of the disease than those who do not. Now these experts say they may know why: More than half of the top-selling probiotic supplements they analyzed contained gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye that is harmful to people with celiac disease. The authors of the study found gluten in probiotic supplements that carried “gluten-free” claims on their labels, and they discovered that the most expensive supplements were just as likely to contain gluten as the cheapest products.
The new findings are a symptom of what experts say is a larger problem in the $33-billion-a-year supplement industry. Several large studies and law enforcement investigations in the last two years have suggested that supplements often do not contain what their labels claim. The industry is loosely regulated, and the Food and Drug Administration has said that two thirds of companies do not comply with a basic set of good manufacturing practices.
Dr. Green said that he and his colleagues were troubled by a 2013 article in The New York Times that described a study carried out at the University of Guelph in Ontario. That study found that many herbal supplements contained cheap fillers, substitutes and unlisted ingredients such as soy and wheat.
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