For many people, medication can be the undoing of a gluten-free diet. Whether prescription or over-the-counter, many medicines are ambiguously labeled at best. To date, there are no regulations requiring manufacturers to disclose the sources of their ingredients for medications.

Happily, the NFCA has recently been awarded a grant to study the extent to which medication contains gluten. According to the press release, the project is called, “Gluten in Medication: Qualifying the extent of exposure to people with celiac disease and identifying a hidden and preventable cause of an adverse drug event,” which pretty much sums it all up.

The study will comprise at least two different parts. The first part involves having a lab run tests on a number of drugs reported to have caused adverse effects (aka glutenings). The reviewers will take into account both the ppm measurement in the samples, as well as how many milligrams of the samples the average user would take.

This will allow them to have a sense of how much gluten a person might ingest, which is key. Since no one should be downing cough syrup or pain meds by the bottle-full, even a relatively high PPM wouldn’t necessarily indicate a lot of gluten being ingested: eating a gluten-free roll that tests to 15ppm would put more gluten into a person’s system than would eating two small pills that test to 50ppm, for example.

In early 2012 the NFCA will begin the second part of the study, and distribute a national survey to people with celiac disease, asking about glutenings that may have been caused by medication.

In the meantime, the best bet when in doubt is to call the manufacturer and ask. If you don’t get an answer you trust, call back again and ask a new person.

The website glutenfreedrugs.com also maintains an often-updated list of medications as well as some plain-English information about what they different components of a medication actually are. Fun fact I learned from the site: the sugar alcohols present in many medications are generally safe for celiacs, however in high doses they can cause GI symptoms — potentially making people believe they’ve been exposed to gluten when they haven’t.

All in all, I’m looking forward to the results of the study. We’ll keep you posted as more news becomes available.