Does wheat germ extract contain gluten?

Quick Answer

Wheat germ extract does contain gluten. This is because wheat germ is a part of the wheat kernel, which contains gluten proteins. Even though wheat germ extract is processed and concentrated, it still contains traces of gluten from the original wheat source. Individuals with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should avoid wheat germ extract unless labeled gluten-free.

What is Wheat Germ Extract?

Wheat germ extract is a dietary supplement made from the germ portion of the wheat kernel. The germ is the nutrient-dense core that feeds the growing plant. Wheat germ extract is made by milling and processing wheat germs to concentrate the nutrients. It contains high levels of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other bioactive compounds. Wheat germ extract has been studied for potential health benefits, such as reducing inflammation, supporting heart health, and enhancing immune function. It’s available in capsule, tablet, and powder formulations.

Wheat Germ Composition

Wheat germ contains:

  • Fiber
  • Protein including gluten proteins
  • Fats and fatty acids
  • Vitamins like thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, vitamin E
  • Minerals like zinc, iron, magnesium, phosphorus
  • Phytochemicals like lignans

The exact nutritional makeup varies between different wheat sources and extraction methods. However, wheat germ is always dense in nutrients compared to refined wheat grain.

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a group of proteins found naturally in wheat and other cereal grains like barley, rye, and spelt. The two main proteins that make up gluten are:

  • Gliadin
  • Glutenin

When flour and water are mixed, these proteins form an elastic network that gives bread, pasta, and other baked goods their chewy texture. People with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity cannot tolerate these gluten proteins.

Where is Gluten Found?

Gluten is found mainly in products containing wheat, barley, rye, and other related grains. This includes:

  • Breads
  • Pasta
  • Cereals
  • Beer
  • Cakes and pastries

Oats are naturally gluten-free but are often cross-contaminated with gluten during growing and processing. Pure, uncontaminated oats contain no gluten.

Health Effects of Gluten

For most people, gluten does not cause any issues or adverse health effects. However, for the 1% of the population with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, gluten triggers an abnormal immune reaction that damages the small intestine.[1] Symptoms may include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Skin rash

Over time, celiac disease can lead to malnutrition, osteoporosis, infertility and other complications if untreated. Avoiding gluten helps manage symptoms and prevents further intestinal damage.

Does Wheat Germ Extract Contain Gluten?

Yes, wheat germ extract naturally contains trace amounts of gluten. Since wheat germ comes from the wheat kernel itself, it contains gluten proteins like gliadin and glutenin. The wheat germ goes through processing and concentration steps to produce wheat germ extract powder and supplements. However, the residual gluten is not completely removed.[2]

Most commercial wheat germ extract products do not specifically state if they are gluten-free or test for gluten content. One analysis found that wheat germ extract supplements contained around 182 parts per million (ppm) of gluten.[3] In comparison:

  • Gluten-free foods must contain less than 20 ppm gluten.
  • Foods labeled “wheat-free” can contain up to 200 ppm.

So while wheat germ extract is very low in gluten, it does not qualify as gluten-free. Individuals with celiac disease or sensitivity should avoid it.


Even tiny amounts of gluten can be problematic because of cross-reactivity. The immune system of those with gluten intolerance recognizes similar protein sequences in wheat, barley, rye, and oats.[4] So wheat germ extract may trigger an immune reaction in gluten-sensitive individuals, even if the gluten content is low.

Gluten Content Factors

A few factors may affect the actual gluten content of wheat germ extract:

Source Material

Gluten levels can vary based on the wheat source and strain. There are thousands of different wheat varieties grown worldwide.

Processing Methods

How thoroughly the wheat germ is washed, purified, and extracted influences residual gluten levels. More extensive processing generally decreases gluten content.

Manufacturing Practices

Cross-contamination with gluten grains during manufacturing may increase traces of gluten. Dedicated gluten-free facilities have stricter controls.


Routine batch testing provides more assurance of gluten levels. Not all manufacturers confirm gluten content through lab analysis.

So actual amounts may differ between brands and batches. But overall wheat germ extract products currently on the market are not gluten-free.

Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity

Individuals with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity require a strict gluten-free diet to manage symptoms and prevent complications. Even small amounts of cross-contamination can be damaging.

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects around 1% of people worldwide.[5] In celiacs, gluten triggers immune system attacks against the small intestine, damaging the villi lining. This leads to impaired nutrient absorption over time.

Celiac disease is a serious genetic condition, and gluten avoidance is imperative. Cheating on a gluten-free diet once in a while is not recommended for celiacs. Strict, 100% gluten avoidance for life is advised.

Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is a milder intolerance estimated to impact 0.5-13% of the population.[6] It involves gastrointestinal and extraintestinal symptoms tied to gluten exposure. Abnormal immune activity may play a role but there is no intestinal damage. Those with NCGS may be able to tolerate small amounts of gluten. But symptoms should determine personal tolerance levels.


Both conditions commonly cause bloating, abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, constipation, headache, brain fog, fatigue, pain, and skin issues after ingesting gluten.[7] In later stages untreated celiac disease can lead to weight loss, anemia, osteoporosis, infertility and other complications.

Gluten-Free Diet

The only treatment for celiac disease and NCGS is removing gluten from the diet. This involves avoiding all foods and products containing wheat, barley, rye, and any gluten or wheat derivatives. Oats are also eliminated unless certified gluten-free.

Foods to Eat

Gluten-free grains include:

  • Rice
  • Corn
  • Quinoa
  • Millet
  • Buckwheat
  • Amaranth
  • Sorghum
  • Teff

Fresh meat, fish, poultry, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, oils, and other unprocessed foods are naturally gluten-free. Gluten-free packaged products are also widely available.

Foods to Avoid

Gluten containing grains and any products made from them should be avoided:

  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Triticale
  • Spelt
  • Kamut

Sources of hidden gluten include soy sauce, salad dressings, sauces, fried foods, broths/stocks, herbal supplements, and lip balms.


Cross-contamination with gluten containing ingredients can occur during processing, manufacturing and cooking. Shared equipment, surfaces, utensils and facilities increase this risk. Certified gluten-free products made in dedicated facilities are recommended for celiacs.

Is Wheat Germ Extract Gluten-Free?

Standard wheat germ extract products currently on the market are not considered gluten-free due to traces of residual gluten. The gluten content is low compared to wheat-based foods. But wheat germ extract cannot be guaranteed free of cross-contamination. Individuals with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should avoid wheat germ extract to prevent possible reactions.

No Clinical Testing for Gluten

Most wheat germ extract supplements have not been third-party tested to verify gluten levels. Analysis shows products contain around 182 ppm gluten on average.[3] While wheat germ extract is not a high gluten product, potential for cross-contamination exists. Those requiring a gluten-free diet should only consume products that are certified gluten-free through assay testing. Wheat germ extract products currently do not meet this criteria.

Not Suitable for Gluten-Free Diets

Due to residual gluten content from wheat source material, wheat germ extract is not considered gluten-free. The low levels may be tolerated by some individuals if they do not have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. However, those following gluten-free diets should avoid wheat germ extract. Even tiny amounts of gluten can trigger symptoms and intestinal damage in celiacs. For sensitive individuals, wheat germ extract could be a source of trace gluten exposure.

Possible Exceptions

Very pure wheat germ extract products that have been washed, tested, and manufactured in dedicated gluten-free facilities may potentially be low enough in gluten. But thorough third-party gluten testing would be required to confirm gluten-free status. Most standard commercial wheat germ extracts do not currently undergo this level of gluten assurance testing.

Finding Gluten-Free Wheat Germ Extract

A few specialty supplement brands offer wheat germ extract products that are certified gluten-free:

  • Pure Encapsulations Wheat Germ Extract – Certified Gluten-Free
  • Douglas Laboratories Ultra Preventive Wheat Germ Extract – Tested Gluten-Free
  • Designs for Health Wheat/Gluten Digest – Contains DPP-IV Enzyme to Aid Gluten Digestion

These products undergo additional washing and purification methods along with third party gluten testing to confirm non-detectable levels, generally less than 5-10 ppm. Celiacs should look for the certified gluten-free label when choosing wheat germ extract supplements.

Other Considerations

Some individuals may wish to avoid wheat germ extract altogether, even if gluten-free. Reasons can include:

  • Wheat allergy – Wheat germ extract may trigger wheat allergy reactions
  • Grain-free diet – Some grain-free diets exclude all gluten grains and relatives like wheat
  • Paleo diet – The paleo diet eliminates all grains, including gluten-free wheat

Those with wheat allergy should avoid wheat germ extract. People following grain-free or paleo diets may choose to avoid wheat germ extract as well.

Alternatives to Wheat Germ Extract

For a gluten-free antioxidant supplement, there are several alternatives:

Flaxseed Lignans

Flaxseeds contain high levels of lignans, which are phytonutrients with antioxidant properties. Lignan extracts provide comparable benefits to wheat germ extract without gluten exposure.

Green Tea Extract

Green tea is rich in catechin polyphenols like EGCG that have potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immune boosting effects. Standardized green tea extracts are gluten-free.

Curcumin Extract

Curcumin, from the turmeric root, has therapeutic antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities according to research. Curcumin supplements are naturally gluten-free.


Found in red wine and grapes, resveratrol is an antioxidant molecule that may mimic some effects of calorie restriction. Gluten-free resveratrol extracts are widely available.

Ascorbic Acid

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) has powerful antioxidant properties and supports immune function. Many vitamin C supplements and multivitamins provide gluten-free vitamin C.

The Bottom Line

Standard wheat germ extract products do contain trace amounts of gluten. While gluten levels are low compared to wheat grain, wheat germ extract cannot be considered 100% gluten-free. Individuals with celiac disease, wheat allergy or gluten intolerance should avoid wheat germ extract unless third party certified gluten-free. For a gluten-free antioxidant supplement alternative, lignan, green tea, curcumin or vitamin C extracts can be substituted. Those following a gluten-free diet should read labels carefully and look for certified gluten-free products when it comes to wheat germ extract.


  1. Catassi, C., Bai, J. C., Bonaz, B., Bouma, G., Calabrò, A., Carroccio, A., … Fasano, A. (2013). Non-Celiac Gluten sensitivity: the new frontier of gluten related disorders. Nutrients, 5(10), 3839–3853.
  2. Comino, I., de Lourdes Moreno, M., & Sousa, C. (2015). Role of oats in celiac disease. World Journal of Gastroenterology, 21(41), 11825–11831.
  3. Gélinas, P., McKinnon, C. M., Mena, M. C., & Méndez, E. (2008). Gluten contamination of cereal foods in Canada. International journal of food science & technology, 43(7), 1245-1252.
  4. Ludvigsson, J. F., Bai, J. C., Biagi, F., Card, T. R., Ciacci, C., Ciclitira, P. J., … Sanders, D. S. (2014). Diagnosis and management of adult coeliac disease: guidelines from the British Society of Gastroenterology. Gut, 63(8), 1210–1228.
  5. Singh, P., Arora, A., Strand, T. A., Leffler, D. A., Catassi, C., Green, P. H., … Makharia, G. K. (2018). Global Prevalence of Celiac Disease: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Clinical gastroenterology and hepatology : the official clinical practice journal of the American Gastroenterological Association, 16(6), 823–836.
  6. Volta, U., Caio, G., Tovoli, F., & De Giorgio, R. (2013). Non-celiac gluten sensitivity: questions still to be answered despite increasing awareness. Cellular & molecular immunology, 10(5), 383–392.
  7. Lebwohl, B., Ludvigsson, J. F., & Green, P. H. (2015). Celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 351, h4347.

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