Is your probiotic gluten-free?

Is your probiotic gluten-free?

As more information about the benefits of probiotic use is becoming increasingly available, Professor Leon Dicks, head of the probiotic and antimicrobial peptide laboratory in the Department of Microbiology at Stellenbosch University, stresses the importance of choosing a probiotic that is gluten-free.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines probiotics as “living organisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.¹” In essence, probiotics are good or helpful bacteria that help to keep the gut healthy, says Professor Dicks.

He points out that probiotics are not limited to acute use only, such as replacing the good bacteria in the gut destroyed by antibiotics, but are effective in alleviating various conditions. “However, choosing a gluten-free probiotic is important, particularly for people suffering from gluten-related disorders or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).”

The spectrum of gluten-related disorders has widened in recent times and includes celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity and wheat allergy2A. Symptoms of gluten-related disorders include diarrhoea constipation and abdominal pain.2A

Celiac disease is a serious chronic, multisystem autoimmune disease which affects the small intestine and is triggered by the intake of gluten3A. Non-celiac disease, also referred to as gluten sensitivity, is less well defined but generally refers to people without proven gluten intolerability or wheat allergy, whose symptoms improve when following a gluten-free diet.3B

As the in-take of wheat and other gluten-containing cereals spreads around the world, the prevalence of gluten-related disorders is growing4. Recent research shows that improvements in testing methodologies for identifying people with celiac disease reveal greater prevalence in developing countries than previously thought4. This includes South Africa where bread is widely consumed.

Professor Dicks points out that anyone suffering from a gluten-related disorder should ensure the probiotic they take is gluten-free so as not to aggravate their symptoms.

Another illness creating discomfort for many South Africans is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). IBS is a chronic condition and a common gastrointestinal disorder2C.

According to the 2017 Cipla Digestive Health Survey, conducted among 400 health conscious South Africans, 22% of respondents said that they definitely suffer from IBS, while 35% of respondents were unsure. Professor Dicks says that a good quality, daily probiotic can decrease the symptoms of IBS as the microorganisms found in probiotics support the maintenance of a healthy gut flora balance.

It is really important for anyone suffering from IBS to choose a probiotic that is gluten-free, he says. “This is because there is growing evidence that a gluten-free diet can help alleviate the symptoms associated with IBS2B and 5.”

The 2017 Cipla Digestive Health Survey also revealed that only 61% of survey respondents know what a probiotic is, while 54% know what the function of a probiotic is. It is therefore not surprising that many misconceptions exist around probiotic usage, says Professor Dicks.

“Lack of awareness around how to identify and use probiotics prevent South Africans from unlocking the full benefit of probiotics. Daily use of a quality probiotic can offer multiple benefits, particularly for those suffering from IBS. However, it is important to make sure the probiotic is gluten-free,” he concludes.

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