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  • Wendy Cohan, RN
    Wendy Cohan, RN

    Could Xanthan Gum Sensitivity be Complicating your Celiac Disease Recovery?

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Celiac.com 12/03/2008 - Xanthan Gum is a polysaccharide used as a binder in many gluten-free products.  In the production of xanthan gum, sucrose or glucose is fermented by a bacterium, Xanthomonas campestris.   After a four-day fermentation period, the polysaccharide is precipitated from a corn-based growth medium with isopropyl alcohol, dried, and ground into a fine powder.  When added to a liquid medium, a slippery, sticky gum is formed, and this substance works well in holding baked goods together, or keeping separate liquid ingredients in suspension in salad dressings and sauces.

    While the above description doesn't make it sound very appetizing, what's the problem with xanthan?  Some people develop an allergy to xanthan, with gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea.  Even consumption of a very minor amount can lead to days and days of recovery and many trips to the bathroom.  Hmm.  Sound like anything we've heard before?  And that's the problem.  Experiencing a xanthan reaction can make you question your gluten-free diet, make you think you were accidentally exposed to gluten, or mystify you completely.

    A xanthan reaction can also precipitate migraine headaches, skin itchiness, and for those exposed to large amounts, such as bakery workers, nose and throat irritation.   Symptoms of xanthan sensitivity become more prevalent with increasing exposure, so that can be one important clue.  If you've suddenly started baking alot, or become addicted to a new brand of gluten-free cookies, and you start to have increased gastrointestinal symptoms, you may want to consider ruling out an adverse reaction to xanthan gum.

    What's a body to do?  Guar gum makes a good substitute, and it is also less expensive.

    How did I become aware of this?  Well, actually I have known about this for quite awhile, but since xanthan gum is in so many gluten-free products, I thought that sensitivity to xanthan must be a rare and isolated occurrence.  Then two things happened to change my mind.  I began baking a lot of gluten-free products for a business venture, and suddenly started having some gastro-intestinal problems, after being healthy for so long.  I didn't have the severe pain of a gluten reaction, but otherwise my symptoms were eerily similar, particularly the bloating.  I had already decided to lay off the baking (and tasting) as much as I could, and had narrowed the possibilities down to either tapioca starch or xanthan gum.   Then, a student in one of my cooking classes let me know that she had a severe allergy to xanthan, and described her symptoms.  They were identical, except in severity.

    I reformulated my recipes using only guar gum for my next stretch of gluten-free baking, and I had no problem at all.  I certainly hope that I do not develop a reaction to Guar gum, which is the ground carbohydrate storage portion of the guar bean.  I have not seen reports of allergy or sensitivity to guar gum, but will do a little more research for my own knowledge, which I will share in the future.

    By no means am I advocating that all people following a gluten-free diet give up products made with Xanthan gum.  But, if you do not feel that the diet is helping you, and are still symptomatic, a sensitivity to Xanthan gum is one possibility that needs to be ruled out.


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    My son and I react to both xanthan gum AND guar gum. In fact, my son has even worse symptoms with guar gum than with xanthan gum. I suspect that quite a few people react to either or both, and some may not even know that they do.

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    Anyone have trouble with sorghum or millet?. I think I had a reaction to a gluten free pizza dough that had sorghum and millet (and xanthan gum) but don't have trouble with a gluten free pancake mix that has xanthan gum but not the other two ingredients.

    I, too, react to sorghum. I have been afraid to try millet.

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    I had to figure out my xanthan gum allergy all by myself. I am dismayed to find it in so many gluten free mixes and products. Since I also avoid legumes, I have stayed away from guar gum. Unflavored gelatin is all I've got to work with. I've got a bread recipe that works for me, so I'm happy.

     

    I also react to annatto, which is used in cheeses to maintain color. It took me MONTHS to narrow down that search and finally figure it out! Lately I've heard that other celiacs also react to it.

    Thanks for your comments! I will try eliminating xanthan gum as I've been off quar gum for a couple of years. That helped but I still have problems. After 22 years on the celiac diet it sure would be nice to have a flat stomach and calm gut again.

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    Thanks so much for writing this article and bringing this problem to the attention of more celiacs. Now if only manufacturers, recipe developers and cookbook authors would take note! I had noticed that I would have digestive problems later in the day if I ate toast with my breakfast. After a lot of experimentation with several commercial brands and homemade recipes with and without xanthan gum, I finally narrowed the problem down to the gum. I suspect this problem is more widespread than people realize. How often do you hear people speculating that a product has cross-contamination or hidden gluten because they "react" to it. No one ever seems to blame the xanthan gum. I am getting increasing frustrated with cookbook authors who put it in everything, even recipes like cakes and cookies where it doesn't provide much benefit to the texture.

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    I have also had reactions to both xanthan gum and guar gum. One suggestion that I have come across is to use chia seeds in baking to act as a "binder". Chia can be used ground or whole. A suggestion is 1-2 Tbsp per 1 cup of water and use in place of other liquids in the recipe such as water or milk. I am going to try this once my stomach settled down from the latest guar gum reaction...

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    I have been wondering why I have issues after eating supposedly gluten-free breads, muffins, etc. I'm going to have to see if this is the issue. In the meantime I just wrote Udi's to point this out to them and ask them to experiment with guar gum or other alternatives. I'm going to write a few of my other favorite gluten-free manufacturers, too. They may not know, either!

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    Thank you! I couldn't understand why I felt sick every time I ate from the gluten-free bakery, or why my symptoms rarely seemed to improve. It was only when I developed a bad rash immediately after chowing down on some new gluten-free cookies that I had to check the ingredients.

    I will certainly look into this more - you may have helped my health immensely! Thank you!

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    The Xanthan Gum article written by Gini Warner is misleading. What she should of mentioned, that those 3 types of sugars are found in many different types of foods and not specifically corn. The public will misinterpret that xanthan has corn. It does not. A glucose syrup is fed to the bacteria which they metabolize and propagate. Once grown the bacteria is then washed and through a series of alcohol reactions produces the polysaccharide, Xanthan gum. Testing done by University of Nebraska has shown no corn to be found.

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    From Wikipedia "Xanthan gum may be derived from a variety of source products that are themselves common allergens, such as corn, wheat, or soy." If it's made from wheat that seems like a bad idea for Celiacs. Wonder why so many "gluten free" products use it?

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    I was diagnosed as having gluten intolerance a few days ago and have been referred to have a biopsy of my small intestines to see if I have celiac disease. Since I am new at this I appreciate the heads up on the Xanthan Gum, (I use this gum to stiffen thread for bead weaving, funny huh?). I have the blister rash and the doctor told me that without the medication it could take up to six months to get total relief from my symptoms. I don't want the meds and I don't want the rash so to be safe I'm not using the Xanthan Gum in my food. Thank you all for your help and thank you for this site.

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    I had to figure out my xanthan gum allergy all by myself. I am dismayed to find it in so many gluten free mixes and products. Since I also avoid legumes, I have stayed away from guar gum. Unflavored gelatin is all I've got to work with. I've got a bread recipe that works for me, so I'm happy.

     

    I also react to annatto, which is used in cheeses to maintain color. It took me MONTHS to narrow down that search and finally figure it out! Lately I've heard that other celiacs also react to it.

    I am also unable to eat anything with xanthan gum. Would really be interested how you make gluten free bread without it.

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  • About Me

    An RN for 14 years, I have been following a strict gluten-free diet for six years of improving health! Now I help others as a Celiac Disease/Gluten Intolerance Educator. I work one on one with people on meal planning, shopping, cooking and dining out gluten-free. I will also work with children who have behavioral issues related to gluten or other food sensitivities.  My other websites are: www.WellBladder.com and www.neighborhoodnurse.net.

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