Grain and Corn Free Supplements: A Nightmare!

Micki Rose explains

My recent No Grain: No Pain article about the traditional gluten free diet not being gluten free enough for people with true genetic sensitivity, obviously struck a chord with many of you.

One of the main questions I have been asked, apart from diet stuff, is how do I get well? This is a big question, as you can imagine, but the first way is to be able to get your nutrient levels up high enough again for your body systems to function as well as they can. This is clearly easier said than done when the vast majority of true gluten sufferers can’t tolerate the very supplements that would help because they contain overt and hidden grains.

Certainly, I have found as a practitioner it has been hugely frustrating successfully getting 99% of patients well with the very prescriptions I want to take myself but can’t! Over time, malabsorption has kicked in and I have become deficient in many minerals, stomach acid and digestive enzymes. This of course then leads to degenerative conditions like eyesight failing, gums receding and other such lovely things for a 40 year old! Oh, to be able to stem that tide.

But every time I tried a new supplement, it caused problems. Well, after extensive research, I now have some answers. Hoorah!

First, let’s understand the issue as finding grain-free supplements is a veritable minefield.

The Hidden Problem

During my research, I contacted over 45 different supplement manufacturers and pummelled them with questions. Most were very helpful until it got difficult and, in the end, I found just one manufacturer who understood the importance of the issue and produce safe-enough and well-labelled supplements suitable for trulyglutenfree-ers. More about them later.

The biggest problem with supplements is that many say they are free from common allergens including gluten, but of course that is traditional gluten free, not truly gluten/grain free. Many of them contain ingredients directly from grains, especially corn. Even when companies say their supplements are corn free, much of the time they contain ingredients that have been derived from corn but the ubiquitous phrase ‘there is none left in the finished product’ then gets bandied about.

This phrase is based on the belief that it is the proteins in foods that cause the problem. But it may not be. Only recently, research has confirmed that genetic gluten sensitivity is different and distinct from coeliac disease with different immune and non-immune mechanisms going on. If that’s the case, how do we know that we are reacting solely to the proteins as is suggested in coeliac disease?

When a company says a product has been tested for gluten and is ‘clear’, they mean it has been tested for traditional gluten proteins (in wheat, rye and barley), not the grains themselves, nor any part of them other than the proteins. Most of the time, they also mean it is gluten free in that gluten levels found are lower than the allowable amounts set for coeliacs. It’s not their fault; that’s just the way the system is currently. But unfortunately, it is not good enough for those genetically-sensitive to gluten who can react to the tiniest part in any grain containing any type of gluten, gliadin or not.

Manufacturers can also find it very difficult to track down the exact origin of some of the ingredients. Even then, if an ingredient that is not legally ‘declarable’ is used, e.g. corn, most of them would not declare the presence of it on their label, even though it is there. 

Specific Issues

From my research so far, at least these can come from grain:

Minerals in citrate form – can be fermented from corn
Vitamin E
Vitamin C
Cellulose (in the capsule)
L-Glutamine/Glutamate/Glutamic acid
Glucosamine (vegetable source)
Digestive enzymes
They may not be grain-derived in a particular product but they could be so you have to check to be sure. 

Let’s look at a few of those in more detail:

Vitamin C is an interesting one as most supplement manufacturers, I’m told, use the same Chinese company to supply their supplemental Vitamin C – and it is corn-derived. In this case, use cherry or cassava-derived products; there are a few about.

Digestive enzymes are often fermented from fungi grown on grains too. Again, the argument is that there should be none of the grain left in the finished product, but I have found some people (including me) react so it pays to be careful. Of course, a person could be reacting to the proteases in enzymes. These are a type of protein and since proteins are thought to be the major allergen culprits in food, this is entirely possible. In general, plant enzyme formulas will be produced in this way so it may be better to stick to bromelain, which comes from pineapple, a glandular product which comes from a cow or pig (although these are made from grain-fed animals – does that matter? Not according to the manufacturers I have asked but we will see…), or low protease products, which I am currently researching.

Stearates and celluloses are another complex issue. In general, manufacturers I have contacted say their stearates are most often derived from palm oil and their celluloses from wood pulp, both of which are fine from a true gluten-sensitive perspective, if not that good for the planet.

However, some simply say they come from ‘vegetable origin’ and it is then almost impossible to track down from what vegetable precisely, which means it could be a grain. One supplier said cellulose can come from corn. Some manufacturers said that there is a shift towards the use of ‘bio-mass’ non-food products, but even one of these is ‘corn stover,’ the maize stalks left after harvest. Sometimes the cellulose capsule shells may contain glycerine. This is made from varying vegetable oils, mostly palm and coconut oil but corn is also possible.

Lastly, I was shocked to learn that my favourite mineral form – citrates – can be fermented from corn. This is what one manufacturer explained: “Corn contains carbohydrates and it is the fermentation of these carbohydrates that leads to the production of Citric Acid which is then reacted with a Calcium mineral compound to produce the Calcium Citrate.” Aargh….!

General Advice

  1. Look carefully at labels. If it doesn’t state that it is free from a grain you are avoiding, assume it is in it even if you can’t see how on the label. This is because of the fact that some manufacturers won’t be able to confirm if they ARE grain free so can’t say it is.
  2. Use liquid or powder supplements where you can as you are less likely to have a problem.
  3. Take supplements out of the capsules. This might help if you’re not sure what you are reacting to; it at least gets rid of the cellulose problem. Don’t do this with betaine stomach acid or digestive enzymes, though, please.

Supplements, as we have learned, are a nightmare. Liquid ones are usually too low to do any real good but at least you can take some (always supposing they are not based in grain alcohol…). Powders, tablets and capsules are full of grains, whether declared or hidden.

Truly Gluten Free Supplements

What I was hoping to find, to get truly safe products was a supplier making supplements based on the specific carbohydrate diet principles of no starch (and therefore no grains) with no dairy or other common allergens. I whooped with joy every time I found a hopeful, but one by one they crashed at the ‘do you declare the starting material?’ question.

I used the Vitamin C in a range as the clincher. I knew it was very likely to have been derived from corn, but did they say it was starch/corn free?

The vast majority of suppliers didn’t declare the starting material was corn, but a few more switched-on suppliers did say they thought corn was an allergen so didn’t label a product as corn free on the label. Unfortunately, they didn’t declare the overt or hidden presence of other grains apart from the traditional gluten free ones, so that ruled them out, even though they were clearly trying.

In essence, just one company so far – happily a UK one – declares all starches, corn as a separate grain, all major allergens and takes note of the starting material: Higher Nature. To say I was pleased would be an understatement after months of searching (and trying samples that made me pretty ill; the dedication…!)

They have a ‘Does Not Contain’ list on the product label and you can tell if the product is free of the allergens you are looking for. More importantly, taking the corn-derived Vitamin C as our example again: in their ‘Does Not Contain’ list on the label, corn would be removed just in case it could contain it, whereas most other companies would keep it as ‘corn free’ or not declare it on the label at all on the assumption there is no corn left as it was a starting material. And that’s what makes it safe for TGFs.

Hold your horses a bit, though. Only part of the range is suitable for TGFs and some products do contain starch. I have painstakingly gone through every product in the range and produced a list of the safe supplements, noting where necessary the source of any starch, which is mostly potato or rice.

The range is not complete. I can’t find a strong-enough probiotic with Higher Nature, nor a multivitamin and mineral that is truly gluten free, but there are many useful products. I am now continuing my research to find more ranges, especially of multi nutrients, herbal and homeopathic tinctures (most contain grain alcohol) and digestive enzymes, so critical for malabsorbers like us and I will report back asap.

So, there is hope! I can now at least take the iron and vitamin C I desperately need, some CoQ10 for days when I need more energy, loads of zinc (commonly deficient in gluten sensitives) and stomach acid so I can absorb more. Who knows, in a few months I might be able to see more clearly and keep my teeth if my gums stop receding! Gotta be good.

This is based on an extract from the full first TGF Supplements Special Report which is available via the site. The report includes recommended product combinations that might get you off to a good healing start plus the full Higher Nature TGF-safe products list - saving you from having to check every product when I’ve already done it for you. Someone give me a knighthood.

PS..... Special Report 2 with updates now available here....

First published May 2011



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