Unidentified gluten in makeup & lotions a hazard for celiacs

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Gluten-containing cosmetics could explain puzzling cases of GI symptoms and rashes in consumers with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Yet information about this important ingredient is mostly unrevealed.

“The use of some cosmetics, including products used on the lips and face, can result in unexpected exposure to gluten,” explain George Washington University gastroenterologists Marie L Borum, MD and Pia Prakash, MD.

As they reported Nov 31 at the annual scientific meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology,(1) their interest in the subject began with one of Dr. Borum’s patients, a 28-year-old woman who experienced exacerbation of her celiac symptoms, including gastrointestinal complications and a recurring skin rash, after using a body lotion advertised as “natural.” 

“It was difficult to determine whether gluten was contained in the product she was using,” says Dr. Prakash. “But once she stopped using the body lotion her symptoms resolved.”

The lack of readily available information about cosmetic ingredients that Dr. Borum experienced first-hand with her patient prompted the researchers to expand their research.

They first identified the top cosmetic companies in the United States and visited the official website for each company as part of a search for “gluten” and “gluten free” – to identify products specifically manufactured without gluten.

Only 2 of the top 10 cosmetic companies in the United States offered any detailed ingredient information, and no mention was made of gluten sources, according to the study.

Next, Drs. Borum and Prakash researched the ingredients for individual cosmetic products using an independent website. The independent website offered lists of ingredients for products marketed by 5 of the top 10 companies – but again no mentions of gluten sources were identified.

Overall, ingredient information was unavailable for 4 of the top 10 companies – and none of the large companies specifically offered gluten-free cosmetic options, according to the study findings.

““This study revealed that information about the ingredients, including the potential gluten content, in cosmetics is not readily available,” Dr. Prakash concludes.

While smaller companies may specifically advertise gluten-free alternatives, she says, “top-selling manufacturers should indicate whether their products can be safely used by individuals with gluten sensitivity.”

About Celiac Disease
Affecting as many as 2-3 million people in the United States and 20 million worldwide, celiac disease is an autoimmune digestive disease that damages the villi of the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food. Approximately 1 out of every 100 people may have celiac disease – though only 1 out of 10 people with celiac disease may be actually diagnosed and are aware that they have this disease.

Women are diagnosed with celiac disease two to three times more often than men and current research indicates that 60% to 70% of those diagnosed with celiac disease are women, according to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.

The only treatment option for those with celiac disease is gluten avoidance. Patients who do not adhere to the gluten-free diet usually continue to suffer from symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, gas and diarrhea.

In addition, these patients are at higher risk for developing complications of celiac disease such as cancer of the small bowel and esophagus, and narrowing in the bowel due to inflammation.
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1. Cited presentation: “Information About Cosmetic Ingredients is Difficult to Obtain: A Potential Hazard for Celiac Patients,” Borum ML, Prakash P

Source: American college of Gastroenterology news release, Oct 31, 2011

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