Monday, October 29, 2012

Gluten Intolerance in a Gluten Filled World

I am please to have a guest columnist on my blog, Lily Burns.
Lily Burns is a health writer who works on behalf of one of only two licensed prescribing pharmacies in the US. She developed an interest in how diet and health interrelate after watching her cousin struggle with eating out as a vegetarian with a nut allergy and gluten intolerance.

For many, eating and especially eating out, often involves a difficult and drawn out process of questions and investigative work in order to be able to enjoy a meal without experiencing pain, cramps and sickness. If you suffer from any level of food intolerance you will have some understanding and knowledge of these symptoms; some ingredients that cause these reactions are easy to avoid, but others are more ingrained in the type and nature of Western food. One such ingredient is gluten.

Avoiding gluten in your everyday food is essential if you have an intolerance and especially if you suffer from celiac disease. Understanding the foods that are likely to include this ingredient takes time and effort, but, many stores are drastically improving not only their labeling but the provision of alternatives. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the pharmaceutical markets.

Gluten in Common Drugs
Ingredients that include gluten are often used as a binding agent in medicines, and their inclusion is rarely included on the ingredients label. There is a Bill set to go to Congress to try and change this; the Gluten in Medicine Identification Act 2012 sets out to change the labeling on medicines and class as misbranded if the source of an ingredient is not included. The work should be completed within two years of the Bill being enacted; however, the Bill was referred to the committee on the 27th April 2012 and has yet not made any further progress. If you add to this the fact that the Bill has about a 2% of being enacted, and there is little chance of any change coming soon.
Can You Help?
Although, at this point, it is not looking particularly good for the Bill, it is not time to give up all hope. You can help by talking to your representative and explaining why they need to support this piece of legislation. It can work; the combined efforts of the five celiac organizations have helped to raise nine co-sponsors of the Bill.

Staying Safe When Using Medicines
Until there is progress with labeling the emphasis on remaining safe while taking medicines remains with the individual; there are steps you can take to minimize your contact with gluten in your medications. Starting this process may be time consuming but once you have some of the initial steps in place it should get easier; especially with medicines that you take regularly.
  • Information Is the Key

    Get to know the inactive ingredients in your medicines; spend as much time checking and understanding them as you do checking the active ingredients and side effects. If the medicine contains starches, dextrates, dextrins, dextri-maltose or maltodextrin then you need to be wary of taking them unless you can track down the sources.
  • Manufacturers

    Find and become familiar with the manufacturer and their website. Often there is more detailed information regarding your drugs on these sites. You can also find their contact information, and if the website doesn’t give you the answers you need then to call them. The process used to create your drugs may change over time so check back whenever you pick up a new prescription.
  • Track Down Gluten Free Alternative

    There are gluten free alternatives of some drugs, and again, depending on your doctor, the emphasis may be on you, to discover them and bring them to the attention of the doctor or pharmacist.
Is Gluten the Only Problem?
Although gluten intolerance is certainly at the forefront at the moment, it is not the only inactive ingredient in drugs that is known to cause problems for people with intolerance. Lactose, a sugar found in dairy products can also cause severe reactions, pain and stomach problems.

One of the common medications, containing lactose, are certain types of contraceptives, commonly used by women who have been failed by their primary source of protection from pregnancy. The main concern here is that firstly the effects of being lactose intolerant are similar to the early stages of pregnancy, the general side effects of the drug and possible complication of ectopic pregnancy. Further concern is raised because in many brands of this type of contraceptives, lactose and several other ingredients are not listed as inactive ingredients at all. One drug that contains lactose is Ella contraceptive; with lactose actually included in the labeling this brand represents one of the good examples of the industry. Although ideally you would be able to avoid the use of these drugs and rely on regular contraception, properly labeled medicine can help you avoid serious side effects.

If you have food intolerance, especially to gluten you need to make sure that you stay as informed as possible regarding the inactive ingredients in your drugs.  Use your doctor and your local pharmacist as sources of information and don’t be afraid to ask questions about the drugs you are prescribed.  Share the information you track down with other suffers, either through support groups or the website of one of the growing number of celiac organizations.

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