(IN PHOTO)A general view of the first Yakult probiotic drink factory opened in the United States in Fountain Valley, California May 23, 2014. REUTERS

The researchers from Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC), New York through their study reveal that many probiotic supplements which are labelled as ‘gluten free’ might still contain traces of gluten and pose a serious threat to the patients with celiac disease on consumption.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder with genetic predisposition. People suffering from the disease exhibit symptoms such as abdominal bloating and pain, chronic diarrhea, vomiting, constipation among others after eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley as their body invokes an immune response that attacks the small intestine. In such people, excessive amount of gluten when consumed cause damage to the lining of the intestine thereby affecting the absorption of necessary nutrients. However, an amount of up to 10 milligrams of gluten per day is considered harmless.

The researchers carried out their study by examining 22 probiotic supplements which were in tablet forms and contained ‘good’ bacteria with an ability to keep the digestive system healthy. Most of them were labelled as "gluten free." After the analysis, they found that more than half, that is, 55 percent of the products that were labelled as gluten free contained detectable levels of gluten in them. However, the researchers were unable to draw a conclusion on whether these levels are dangerous for people with celiac disease.

The probiotics which tested positive for gluten had less than 20 parts per million of gluten, a level that is considered as gluten-free as per the U.S. Food and Drug Administration standards. However, the findings also showed that four of the products had higher levels of gluten.

Dr. Peter Green, professor of medicine and director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City said in a press release that “We have been following reports in the scientific literature and news media on inaccurate labelling of nutritional supplements, and it appears that labels claiming a product is gluten-free are not to be trusted, at least when it comes to probiotics. This is a potential hazard for our patients, and we are concerned.”

Study co-author Dr. Benjamin Lebwohl, an assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology at the Celiac Disease Center, further adds that “We know that most patients with celiac disease only develop intestinal damage when consuming more than 10 milligrams of gluten daily, and it is unlikely that contaminated probiotics can lead to that amount unless patients are ingesting mega-doses.”

The study has now peaked the curiosity of researchers as well as physicians and according to Lebwohl there are many questions which remain unanswered such as “why is there any gluten in these products? Why should the consumer pay any attention to gluten-free labelling on such products? And given the great consumer interest in probiotics, will regulatory bodies take action to protect the public?”

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