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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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    Thanks! I love to bake and being gluten free and allergic to eggs and dairy, couldn't figure out why my gluten-free vegan apple cake made me itch so bad. I had to figure out quick that I was allergic to the xanthan gum. Does anyone know why? What is in it?

    I heard that guar gum can't stand up to the heat with yeast breads. Does anyone have a recipe or experience of it working? I miss my crackers and french bread and ciabatta!

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    I also discovered this sensitivity on my own after eating Udi's bread for a couple of months. It was the only food that had changed in my diet. I have written to the company to encourage eliminating X gum but so far no response. Also look out for carrageenan... See Dr. Joanne Tobacman's research in this area. (It's in Silk milks, Carnation milks and so many other products. .... harmful to the intestines.)

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    Thank you for posting your article! I recently figured out that I have a gluten sensitivity, and quickly realized I also have a xanthan gum sensitivity. I'm glad you mentioned that it can get worse, since I thought I was noticing that. I used to be able to have salad dressing with the gum in it but after most of this week with an upset stomach, I will avoid it altogether. I wish every salad dressing didn't have xanthan gum in it!

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    I was thrilled to find this article. I am sensitive to all kinds of gum, xanthan, guar, locust bean gum, acacia gum, cellulose gum and carrageenan - all used for emulsifying and found in SO MANY foods now. I avoid gluten but the gums elicit much more severe reactions - pain in the pelvic area that can be so severe that walking is hard for several days. I hope this article helps others!

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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.

    Any chance you'd share your bread recipe? I also have guar and xanthan allergies (guar was found at Jefferson Hospital traditional allergy testing when I was 5 years old, nearly 40 years ago, so guar gum allergies are not new or unknown).

    I'm also cooking without legumes and a whole list of other ingredients that my household is allergic to at this time. Thanks.

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    I got pretty sick and narrowed it down to Xanthan gum after switching from grinding up oats, corn, rice, quinoa, and other grains, for a homemade pizza crust, to Bob's Red Mill pizza crust mix (a lot easier). Why is it so hard for the food industry to just make simple food? Why do they play with 'the gooey stuff from rotting greens'? Eating bacterial rot never seemed like a good idea to me. I just want simple plain food! I don't care about bubbles and stretchiness. I just want to eat and not get sick. Is that really too much to ask in this day and age?

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    I'm allergic to corn, and have serious reactions to xanthan gum and all other corn and corn-derived additives. I have to avoid almost all gluten-free products, because they contain xanthan gum. I know several other celiacs who react to xanthan gum, too.

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    No one has mentioned psyllium? It can be used in gluten-free baking very similarly to xanthan gum, though it's mixed with the liquid, not the flour. I think the dosing is usually about 1:1. Where I come from psyllium is by far the most common ingredient people use to improve texture of homemade gluten-free baked goods, though xanthan is used too.

     

    Agar agar can be used too, though the dosing is different and I can't really say much about it. I believe agar is the least allergenic of the whole bunch.

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    I have to say that while giving my 3 year old son coconut milk, I discovered that he reacted to the guar gum in it so severely that it messed with his blood sugars and sent him into Ketosis. He also had severe behavioral issues while ingesting it and is highly intolerant to gluten, casein, soy, corn, oxalates, salicylates, and has a probable mitochondrial disease. I will never give him anything with this in it again... nourishing him is so difficult..I am trying to avoid putting him back on a formula like Elecare.

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    Any chance you'd share your bread recipe? I also have guar and xanthan allergies (guar was found at Jefferson Hospital traditional allergy testing when I was 5 years old, nearly 40 years ago, so guar gum allergies are not new or unknown).

    I'm also cooking without legumes and a whole list of other ingredients that my household is allergic to at this time. Thanks.

    By process of elimination, I am just discovering that my symptoms are being caused by Xanthan Gum. Had blood test yesterday for corn allergy ( I cannot tolerate corn pasta), symptoms are even worse than gluten. Options are becoming very limited.

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    My son is very allergic to xanthan gum. I only figured it out by comparing ingredients in foods that bothered him. What is the common ingredient in Hershey's chocolate syrup and Taco Bell taco sauce? Only xanthan gum. His allergist tested him for xanthan and confirmed it.

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    I too have recently discovered a sensitivity to xanthan gum & put it down to it's 'corn' content, which I've developed a sensitivity to in the past 6 months. I've been on a gluten free diet for 4 years and have changed the way I eat and cook completely. After OD'ing on gluten free corn flakes, my corn sensitivity showed up! So now I can't eat gluten, wheat, dairy or corn! After eliminating corn, I experienced severe symptoms exactly the same as corn related ones and I'd only eaten mayo and hot pepper sauce, which I regularly eat and both of which contained xanthan gum. Researching online I discovered it's produced from 'corn' which surprised me, as most foods containing xanthan gum make no reference to 'corn' on the label for Allergy Advice. Some tips.. Tesco Finest do a nice xanthan gum free mayo & to make your own hot pepper sauce, use Harissa (pepper/pimento paste) and apple cider vinegar to dilute to required consistency! Delicious! As for bread.. I now mix gram flour with water and pinch of salt to a batter and pour on to hot oil on a frying pan, it makes a pancake/bread like fritter that's great with curries and soups etc., my alternative to bread. Add spices and chopped coriander for taste. Also add rice flour to it, before the water, for a crisper pancake.

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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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