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  • Scott Adams
    Scott Adams

    Corn Gluten - Is it Safe for a People with Celiac Disease Who are on a Gluten-Free Diet?

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    The term gluten in reference to the cohesive, elastic protein mass remaining after starch is washed from a dough goes back to Beccari in 1745. Strictly speaking, gluten is found only in wheat because it is difficult to wash a cohesive protein mass even from rye, the closest relative to wheat, let alone from barley or oats or anything else. Unfortunately, a misuse of the term by the corn industry has become common in recent years. It has become fairly common to call corn storage proteins corn gluten. Personally, I think there is no justification for such usage. Corn may contain prolamins, as does wheat, but not gluten.

    When it comes to celiac disease, a similar corruption of the term has become very common. There are certain related proteins in wheat, rye, and barley that give rise to particular peptides during digestion that are capable of triggering the responses typical of celiac disease. Only in the case of wheat can these be strictly considered to be derived from the gluten proteins. But for lack of a suitable term, patients and their physicians began speaking of gluten-free or gluten-containing foods. People ask me, How much gluten is there in quinoa? I have to translate this into, Are there any harmful peptide sequences in the proteins of quinoa? There is nothing in quinoa that is like gluten prepared from a wheat flour dough, which has an unusual, perhaps unique, viscoelastic character.

    In any case, as far as we know, corn does not seem to cause harm to celiac patients. Corn has not been studied in the extensive way that wheat has in relation to celiac disease, but for 40+ years patients and their physicians have seemed to agree that corn is OK. The sequences in the corn zein (prolamin) fraction are suspicious, but they do differ in an apparently crucial way from the protein sequences of the wheat gliadin (prolamin) fraction. There have been no modern biopsy-based studies of the effects of purified corn proteins on the celiac intestine as there have been for wheat, but the mass of evidence still seems to point in the direction of corn being safe for celiac patients.


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    An article in the World Journal of Gastroenterology, published November 14, 2012, is called "Celiac Disease: Prevalence, diagnosis, pathogenesis and treatment", and addresses the corn issue as follows: "celiac disease is an intestinal enteropathy triggered by the ingestion of gliadin AND OF OTHER RELATED PROLAMINS in genetically predisposed individuals" (p. 6040; bold-face emphasis mine). "Gluten is a protein that appears in wheat, barley, rye and oat, compositing of prolamin and glutelin. THE MAJORITY OF THE PROTEINS IN FOOD RESPONSIBLE FOR THE IMMUNE REACTION IN celiac disease ARE THE PROLAMINS. Prolamins is[sic] found in several grains, such as wheat (gliadin), barley (hordein) and rye (secalin), CORN(zein) and as a minor protein, avenin in oats. Because of their high glutamine content and specific sequence patterns, prolamins are resistant to gastrointestinal proteolytic enzymes" (p. 6041; boldface emphasis mine). Translating the jargon, this means that the sub-element of gluten that causes problems is prolamin, and there is a type of prolamin found in corn. Thus, it is not unreasonable to assume that people with celiac disease will be challenged by corn. This article does not make recommendations about diet other than refraining from all gluten-containing foods, but given that they say that it is prolamins that cause the immune reaction, and corn contains prolamins, the logical conclusion is that corn can be a problem. I saw a reference on another website to a journal article that stated that about 30% of people with celiac disease have corn anti-bodies present in their blood (and are therefore having an immune reaction to corn), which concluded that people should ask for this blood test, but I have not read the source article so I can't speak to the accuracy of that claim.

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    Anyone else have problems with corn? I am aware that it is not gluten, but after my celiac disease diagnosis I slowly became more sensitive to other foods. Rice first. (ouch) Then corn. Soy. Tomato. Besides the yeast, dairy, eggs, acidic foods...

    Anything with high fructose corn syrup makes my symptoms bad enough to want to go to the ER. I don't eat much corn anyways so I'm not sure about anything else.

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    Sylvia, you obviously are not and do not have a loved one who is stricken with celiac disease. Otherwise you'd not makes such an insensitive comment. What an idiot! Do yourself a favor, read some book on the disease, try to cultivate some degree of compassion for others. Otherwise you're just an empty vessel and waste of life.

    Better yet, Ms. Sylvia should stay off this website and others like it. I do not have celiac disease or any other disease that I am aware of, but I'm sure those that do are already frustrated and upset with having to remove a list of items from their daily diet. Especially cases like Eileen, who also have an intolerance to dairy, eggs and other foods. Furthermore, those who suffer with a condition such as celiac disease are probably even more frustrated with having to take drugs to replace the nutrients from said foods and their benefits.

     

    A perfect example of kicking someone while they are down. I am becoming very upset, so Ill just wish good luck and good health to everyone who is suffering from an ailment.

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    I used to love Canyon Bakehouse gluten-free bread (The 7 grain). It was made without any corn products and I never had problems with it. Now, I've noticed they started adding corn starch, corn meal or corn flour to their products and I started having problems when eating this bread. This is so upsetting because it really is one of the best-tasting gluten-free breads out there.

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    I, too, follow a strict gluten-free diet. My diagnosis came long after my sensitivity to corn became apparent. As soon as genetically altered corn hit the market, I began to have extreme reactions, including one bout of anaphylactic shock which now means I have to carry an epipen for my allergy if I attempt to eat out or eat anything that is not specifically labeled corn-free and gluten-free. Amazingly, I am able to find many products that are both.

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    I am Brazilian and in my country the information about food allergies and intolerances are not well reported. I discovered that I have intolerance to various foods by myself. I can not eat gluten, eggs, dairy, soy and corn. I tried taking lactobacilli, but they gave me diarrhea. Now I'll try saccharomyces boulardii. I liked this site very much!

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    Anyone else have problems with corn? I am aware that it is not gluten, but after my celiac disease diagnosis I slowly became more sensitive to other foods. Rice first. (ouch) Then corn. Soy. Tomato. Besides the yeast, dairy, eggs, acidic foods...

    Hi Eileen,

    I too am similar to you. Cannot do corn, soy, eggs, apples or cashews as well as wheat. Would love to hear anything you can share.

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    Response to Eileen Swanson who seems to think she is allergic to corn, rice, soy, tomato, yeast, dairy, eggs, acidic foods....Goodness, this sounds like a perfect reason to create food out of cardboard....

    You are a sad person...

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    Sylvia, you obviously are not and do not have a loved one who is stricken with celiac disease. Otherwise you'd not makes such an insensitive comment. What an idiot! Do yourself a favor, read some book on the disease, try to cultivate some degree of compassion for others. Otherwise you're just an empty vessel and waste of life.

    Very well said!!!!!

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    I too have super sensitivity to nickel. You may want to look into nickel ingested from foods. It naturally occurs in lots of foods absorbed from earth. Legumes (soybeans are the worst for me), raspberries etc. It is hard to find data, but there is some. Some dermatologists disagree - find one that doesn't! It changed my life. Oddly enough, teas contain pretty high content, but they were what helped me diagnose. Avoiding it has cleared up terrible dermatitis on my hands.

    It is an interesting comment on tea. The other problem with tea is fluoride. It occurs naturally as the plant pulls it from the soil, however it is still detrimental to the thyroid and other parts of the body. As a person with two autoimmune disorders I have to be careful of what I eat and drink. Gluten is the last thing I would have thought of, but if any of you suffer from vitiligo, a medical study proved the connection between gluten and this disorder.

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    Anyone else have problems with corn? I am aware that it is not gluten, but after my celiac disease diagnosis I slowly became more sensitive to other foods. Rice first. (ouch) Then corn. Soy. Tomato. Besides the yeast, dairy, eggs, acidic foods...

    Based on a recommendation by my Aunt, I read some books by Dr Theron Randolph. I then went the Academy of Environmental Medicine to find a Dr who could work with my daughter and found Dr Hotze. I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's thyroiditis. I looked up symptoms of hypothyroidism and among them were having anxiety and ADHD, both conditions that my daughter has. When I asked her pediatrician to run a thyroid panel, only the TSH was done and she was anemic. The doctor wouldn't give referral to pediatric Endo doctor. The Hotze clinic said that they would see her. She was tested for inhalant and food allergy in addition to other tests. She had many allergies, but, the biggie was gluten. She was put on a yeast free diet while we waited on results. Her doctor said that the type of antibody test used for allergy was the best, but, that her clinic did not have access. It was IgG and IgM. I was told by Hotze clinic that a gluten allergy meant that unless we cut out all gluten from my daughter's diet, it could lead to celiac later. I actually was double checking a claim on another gluten free website claiming that what is defined as gluten free does not cover everything like corn gluten. That this was a reason why gluten sensitive people don't always improve. This site had a link to access a genetic gluten test that they claimed was more accurate than checking for antibodies or doing biopsies.

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    I think this article needs to be updated by the author at this point, since (as several readers have pointed out), corn is NOT SAFE for all celiac patients, me being one of them. I think I wasted several years of "gluten free" dieting because I continued to consume corn flour, corn starch, and other corn-based products that were labeled "gluten-free" by the manufacturer. My symptoms did not abate until I removed all grains, and specifically, corn, from my diet altogether. I have a link to the NIH study in my blog article listed at the bottom of this comment.

     

    Hopefully as more and more attention is brought to this subject, we will see better and stronger studies on all kinds of grains, which I also suspect may be unsafe for some celiac patients. Thanks for opening up the conversation about it!

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  • About Me

    Celiac.com's Founder and CEO, Scott was diagnosed with celiac disease  in 1994, and, due to the nearly total lack of information available at that time, was forced to become an expert on the disease in order to recover. Scott launched the site that later became Celiac.com in 1995 "To help as many people as possible with celiac disease get diagnosed so they can begin to live happy, healthy gluten-free lives."  In 1998 he founded The Gluten-Free Mall which he sold in 2014. He is co-author of the book Cereal Killers, and founder and publisher of Journal of Gluten Sensitivity.

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