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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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    Guest Teresa Challender

    Posted

    I found this article while trying to track down what I'm reacting to in my gluten-free cooking. I've been gluten-free for several years, and just recently tried baking gluten-free.

     

    I'd been thinking sorghum flour, but now I'm really thinking xanthan gum. Mostly because of my occasional reaction to other gluten-free products that had mystified me -- salad dressings, candy, ice cream -- now I may have my answer.

     

    I'm also now very suspicious that I may not have a gluten sensitivity at all. I'm going to go xantham gum free/home cooking for a while, see if I get my stomach back, then try a homemade bread, and see what happens.

     

    Gah! What are the processed food people DOING to our foods!?

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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.

    I'm not sure that is accurate. I became sensitive to corn, and at the same time became sensitive to xanthan gum, only I did not know at the time that most xanthan gum was made from corn. Authentic Foods makes a xanthan gum that does not use corn. In my case, the problem is definitely corn.

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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...

    Hi! Do you use the chia as a substitute to the liquid, or do you put them both? Thanks!

     

    And for getting better with all those leaky gut symptoms, I would recommend you to do a little research of the Paleo Diet. It has saved my life!

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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!

    Thank you Emily for mentioning bottled salad dressing! I am also allergic to both xanthan and guar gums. It is scary how many processed food items, including salad dressings, frozen entrees, and even some cola drinks contain it! When will it be considered an allergen and require CLEAR WARNINGS?

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    I am allergic to or intolerant of ALL the gums used in foods, cosmetics, drugs, etc., as well as the gluten, also proplylene glycol, soy, all plant estrogens, etc., which are also in most of the above. I can eat creams of any kind or use most boy creams, also tartrates, and many more items. It seems like there is something in everything that is either allergenic or toxic, but they don't put these things in animal foods, etc. I guess the FDA and pharmaceuticals and chemical plants don't give a fig about humans!

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    I have a severe allergy to xanthan gum and so does my sister. Thank god we discovered it!! Yet our symptoms are totally different. Within minutes of digesting, we start getting congested and very phlegmy. If too much is digested, we get a down right cold by the next morning! It's so frustrating because it is literally in almost everything! It's so annoying too how it's in all gluten-free stuff! It's straight up poison!

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    You use gelatin? Where do you find your recipes -- I'm fascinated, because I'm trying to find out what I'm allergic to in my gluten-free baking. Which has become a problem since starting to bake gluten-free these last few months.

     

    Please email me!

    resachallender at yahoo.com

     

    thanks so much!

    Teresa

    Teresa, have you thought about going completely grain-free and seeing if that makes a difference?

    I have pollen food allergies and can't have any Grains (including rice and corn) or legumes, which makes things pretty tricky! I use quinoa flour, potato starch and arrowroot starch to bake with. I don't use canthum gum or guar gum as the first is corn based and guar gum is a legume. I have tried the gelatine in a couple of things or just add extra egg. Hope thats helpful!

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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.

    Can you share your bread recipe?

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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've been told that sorghum is a relative to corn. Hope that helps.

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    THANK YOU!!!!! I am not celiac but do have an intolerance for wheat gluten, corn and soy. This now makes sense why I was having issues with my baked breads! I just bought a new batch of xantham gun also, UGH. Due to the derivative corn, this makes so much sense. I wish I had known that from the start. It is funny that some recipes that I follow tell you that if you are allergic to corn to substitute arrowroot instead of cornstarch, but then still have the xanthan gum in the recipe. Thank you again for this wonderful information.

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    My fibromyalgia doctor Elisa blood tested me for allergens because fibro patients have leaky guts. Xanthan gum was a big one and I found when I eat it, it makes me ache all over, joint pain. It is in everything it seems!

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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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