Being a celiac, we would love the answer to the above question to be - yes; but sadly this is not the case. Like everything that is taken orally (i.e. digested) by a celiac, we have to make sure that it does not contain any gluten. This includes any medications that are prescribed or bought over the counter.
When a celiac is prescribed a medication, it is wise to mention (remind!!) the GP/doctor that any medication needs to be gluten free. The doctor should then research the ingredients of the drug being prescribed. As a second security measure – prior to the Pharmacist dispensing the medication it is recommended to ask the Pharmacist to confirm that the medication does not contain gluten.
The Doctor and Pharmacist will be able to access current literature by computer giving them all the ingredients of the drugs they administer.All over-the-counter drugs and natural remedies need to be checked item or on the information sheet provided with the product, then further investigation is required. Check with the pharmacist as they may be able to determine whether the product contains gluten. If however, the information is not forthcoming, then it may be necessary to ring the drug company direct and request the information. If it is discovered that the drug does contain gluten, then ask the pharmacist/drug company which excipient has been used in the medication and what they consider the source of the gluten contamination to be. (An excipient is an inactive substance used as a carrier for the active ingredients of the medication.)
Some drug companies use sugar alcohols as an excipient. Sugar alcohols are naturally found in many fruits and vegetables and can be extracted from sources that include wheat. It is a similar process to the distillation of alcohol – during the manufacturing process the starches are completely refined leaving behind no gluten proteins. Sugar alcohols ARE safe. Another ingredient that is commonly used in many medications is wheat starch. This ingredient is used to bind the active ingredients together. Any medication that contains wheat starch is NOT gluten free
An example of two different medications that contain gluten is Codalgin Forte and Stemetil. On the box of the Codalgin Forte it states that it contains wheat starch so it is very easy to determine that it is not gluten free. Whereas, the Stemetil has no information written on the packet or on the information sheet to say if it contains gluten or not. The Pharmacist needed to call the Company and was informed that Stemetil contains gluten so therefore it is not suitable for a celiac.
Some simple rules to follow are:
1. Keep a list of medications that have been found to contain gluten. This can then be used as a reference next time the medications need to be taken.
2. If possible get to know the local chemist and build a relationship with them; this way if their help is needed understanding the medications, they will know the requirements of a gluten free diet and be able to help with advice and assistance.