Do Your Probiotics Contain Gluten?

Surprisingly, there’s a pretty good chance that they do!

Medical News Today recently released a report on how Dr. Samantha Nazareth, a gastroenterologist at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) in New York, NY, and her colleagues presented this unsettling claim at the Digestive Disease Week 2015 meeting in Washington, DC in May of this year.

Prompted by research showing that celiac patients who take dietary supplements tend to have more symptoms than those who don’t take them, she and her team decided to find out if this was related to a possible gluten contamination of U.S. probiotics.

They tested 22 popular probiotics for traces of gluten and found that:

12 (55%) of the probiotics contained traces of gluten. While the majority of these probiotics contained the protein at levels less than 20 parts per million – a level considered to be gluten-free by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – four (18%) of them exceeded this level.

What is more, two of the probiotics that contained gluten at levels higher than 20 parts per million – exceeding FDA standards for gluten-free products – were labeled gluten-free.

These findings could greatly impact those with celiac disease: a medical condition in which gluten damages the surface of the small intestine, making it difficult for the body to absorb all of the nutrients needed to support and maintain optimal health (proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals). The gluten found in some probiotics, then, could possibly pose a threat to those with celiac disease.

Dr. Peter Green, professor of medicine and director of the Celiac Disease Center at CUMC, commented on these disturbing results stating, “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.”

While these findings are upsetting, especially for those battling celiac disease who are taking store-bought probiotics to strengthen their guts and immune systems, all is not lost. There is a safer and more beneficial way to get these essential bacteria: fermentation.

While store-bought probiotics are, of course, convenient, the richest and most ingredient-controlled source of good bacteria continues to be home-made fermented vegetables. Not only do fermented vegetables provide a greater number of bacteria than probiotics, but they also offer a wider variety of beneficial microbes.

Fermenting your own vegetables gives you the opportunity to pick your own ingredients and thereby reduce your chances of unwittingly eating gluten.

Below is a great video by Dr. Mercola on how to ferment your own vegetables. Don’t be overwhelmed- fermenting is a bit of a learning curve and each time you do it, it gets a little easier.

Here are some first-timer tips:

  • To simplify the process for the first time, make a smaller batch (use only 1 head of cabbage and adjust the recipe accordingly).
  • Use only cabbage to begin with. Once you are more comfortable with it,  you can get more creative by adding a  variety of other vegetables.
  • Always choose certified organic produce so that their beneficial bacteria have not been killed off by harmful pesticides.
  • If you are concerned about hidden sources of gluten, do not use a fermentation starter (an introductory bacteria / probiotic). There is little way to verify what sort of environment these microbes were grown in. Besides, you don’t actually need one to get great results. In fact, some fermenting experts believe that you get more variety in the types of bacteria strains by relying on the microbes that naturally coexist in and on the produce itself.
  • Fermented vegetables will taste sour and a little strange to begin with, but the more often you eat them and the more positive results you experience from doing so, the more you will want them and the better they will taste over time.

Good luck and happy fermenting!


“Study Identifies Gluten in more than Half of Probiotics,”, May 2015.

“About Celiac Disease,” Canadian Celiac Association.


More on Fermentation:

Dr. Mercola Interviews Sandor Katz About Fermentaion:


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