Gluten-Free Pain Relievers List

Can you take Tylenol if you're gluten-free? What about Advil, Excedrin or Aleve?

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Target is labeling some of its pain medications gluten-free. © Jane M. Anderson

For those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, going gluten-free usually tames many small aches and pains (and even large ones). But that doesn't mean we don't occasionally require an over-the-counter pain reliever ... and when we do, that pain reliever needs to be gluten-free.

But which ones are safe on the gluten-free diet? Unfortunately, it's usually impossible to tell just by reading the packaging in the drug store — manufacturers often include a gluten grain (wheat, usually) as an inert filler or ingredient in both prescription and non-prescription medications, and they're not required to disclose its presence.

However, calling them and asking usually produces answers. In addition, there are several chains — Target, CVS, and Walgreens among them — that have begun labeling their generic drug products "gluten-free." Here's the list of common brand-name pain relievers available in the U.S., plus what their manufacturers say about their gluten-free status:

  • Advil. This ibuprofen-containing pain reliever comes in four varieties: Advil, Advil Film-Coated, Advil Liqui-Gels and Advil Migraine. According to the company, "Advil Liqui-Gels and Advil Migraine contain a wheat derivative, and are not gluten-free." It's not clear whether regular Advil and/or Advil Film-Coated products are produced in the same facility, which would subject them to gluten cross-contamination.
  • Aleve. Aleve's active ingredient is naproxen sodium. The product's manufacturer, Bayer Healthcare L.L.C., says in a statement that "we do not add any gluten to our products. However, we cannot guarantee that they are 100% gluten-free as this product is produced in a facility that manufacturers or packages other items which may contain gluten." These products could be made on the same equipment, according to a customer service representative. Read more on this: Should You Eat Foods Made in a Shared Facility or on Shared Equipment?
  • Bayer Aspirin. Bayer Healthcare's statement for Aleve also applies to Bayer aspirin — the products are produced in a facility that may also process gluten, and could be made on the same equipment as gluten-containing products.
  • CVS. Many of this drug store chain's acetaminophen products are labeled gluten-free and are not manufactured on shared equipment, according to the company. Look for the "gluten-free" designation on the packaging.
  • Excedrin. Novartis Corporation makes Excedrin headache/migraine relief and pain relief medications, along with various other prescription and non-prescription drug products. According to a customer service representative, Novartis does not add gluten to any of its products, but "because we multi-source ingredients for our products, we don't guarantee they don't contain gluten."
  • Mucinex. These products, made by Reckitt Benckiser, really are aimed at people with coughs, colds and the flu, but some formulations of Mucinex do include pain relief and headache relief ingredients. According to the company, Mucinex, Mucinex DM and Mucinex D contain no gluten ingredients, but "we do not test for or certify them to be gluten-free." Read more on this: What Does the Statement 'No Gluten Ingredients' Mean on a Food Label?
  • St. Joseph. The maker of Tylenol, McNeil-PPC, Inc., markets aspirin products under the St. Joseph name. Two products used to appear on Tylenol's formerly extensive gluten-free list, but since McNeil-PPC no longer provides that list, it's not possible to say what's safe.
  • Target. I was delighted recently when shopping in my local Target to find a multitude of Target's store brand ("Up") pain reliever products marked "gluten-free." The possibilities include ibuprofen, acetaminophen and naproxen sodium. Note that not all Up brand pain relievers are marked "gluten-free" — notable exceptions in my store included specific sizes of ibuprofen, plus naproxen sodium caplets (the tablets are marked gluten-free). So buyer beware and check the packaging every time ... but these offer a real, safe, easy-to-find option for us.
  • Tylenol. Tylenol, with its active ingredient acetaminophen, may be the best-known pain relief and headache relief treatment available over-the-counter. Previously, Tylenol had distributed a long list of products it considered gluten-free. However, manufacturer McNeil-PPC recently retracted that list and instead issued this statement: "Although we don't add gluten or gluten containing grains to our products, we cannot confirm that the product or any ingredients in TYLENOL® products are gluten free. Your safety is of great concern to us; therefore, we strongly recommend that you first consult your doctor before using any product if you have a form of gluten intolerance or sensitivity."
  • Walgreens. I've seen generic store brand ibuprofen and acetaminophen labeled as "gluten-free" at Walgreens. In addition, I've seen generic versions of other medications (day and night cold/flu medications, for example) carrying a gluten-free designation. Be careful what you buy, though, as some appear to be gluten-free while others are not.
  • Walmart. An alert reader emailed me to say he'd seen "gluten-free" on the packaging of Walmart house brand pain relievers, so I stopped by my local store. I found that out of the entire pain relief aisle in this store, only one particular size of generic ibuprofen was labeled "gluten-free." So it is possible to find gluten-free-labeled pain relievers at Walmart, but be very careful what you purchase — most of them do not appear to be safe at this time.

Okay, So What About Other Store Brands?

Yes, many of us enjoy the cost savings we can see from buying the store brand of an over-the-counter pain reliever like acetaminophen or naproxen sodium. However, stores can change suppliers at will for their over-the-counter drug products, and a generic medication that once was gluten-free can shift into unsafe status without any warning or notice to the consumer. Always check the label!

Gluten-free labeling on packages of generic pain relievers is becoming much more common in various chain stores. But I can't stress this enough (which is why I'm mentioning it again): Make sure to check the packaging every single time you buy a product, even if it appears to be exactly the same thing you bought last week.

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