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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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    I was fortunate enough to find that it isn't uncommon to have a sensitivity to xanthan gum early in my gluten-free journey. I react more severely immediately to it than to gluten. (Gluten is a much longer, uglier process.) You can use psyllium husk instead of the gums. It works great!

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    My daughter has celiac disease and we, by process of elimination, also discovered her corn allergy. What is extremely interesting is that she is able to have organic corn, but is doubled over and almost vomiting when she has corn that isn't organic. I've learned many with gluten issues also suffer when eating corn. My guess is that the GI tract is already irritated and then consuming GMO corn exacerbates the irritation since the pesticide in it is meant to destroy an insect's digestive tract.

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    Check out Nourishing Meals by Alison Segresten and Tom Malterre, they have a blog too called Healing with Whole Foods. They advocate for healthy whole foods and all baked goods including bread recipes that are xanthum gum- and guar gum-free.

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    I am a self diagnosed wheat/gluten intolerant person who had stomach problems since age 16. Discoveries came at age 57 when I felt like a million $'s taking carbs out and utlimately, wheat/gluten based products from my diet. I knew "gluten-free" pastas and baking didn't sit well with me so I avoided them until the past month. Trying a gluten free bread last weekend caused me fast and severe reactions-sore throat/tongue, headache, nausea and diarrhea. I listed the ingredients of the bread. This weekend I had a chili sauce that I used to be able to eat and got hit with the same symptoms. I logged the ingredients and the common culprit is Xanthan Gum. I appreciate this article and the posts. Great knowing I am not alone. Now a new ingredient to watch for.....

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    Thank you so much! I have been off gluten, dairy and egg for about a year but still have weird episodes that I can't trace back to any of the aforementioned items. Testing revealed mild allergy to dairy and egg white, but not gluten. My nutritionist advised me that I could still have a gluten sensitivity even though it doesn't show up as an allergy on the blood test profile. Two recent incidents lead me to believe I have a problem wit xanthan gum. I attempted trying meatloaf with one egg using udi's bread and after eating experienced a tingky, burning, inflamed and slightly puffy tongue along with stomach tightness and bowel issues to follow. I thought it was the egg, "confirming" the allergy I'd been afraid to test out and decided not to have it again or use the bread which contains egg. Yesterday I tried making gluten-free brownies (betty crocker) with pumpkin as the only added ingredientvb to avoid egg. Same reaction occurred. I checked the labels for the brownie mix and the bread and the common factor was xanthan gum. Then I got to thinking about all the other reactions I had had in the past two years, including toothpaste (which I thought was fluoride sensitivity), cosmetic and hair products, even prescription drugs...all have xanthate gum! I feel like I'm onto something here! One nagging curiosity...could xanthan allergy be stand alone or does it necessarily go hand in hand with gluten sensitivity? Wondering about trying something with gluten that does not contain xanthan gum.... Been so afraid of trying anything with gluten for the past year, but maybe I'm barking up the wrong tree? And how might xanthan gum be related to dairy products?

    I am at the same cross roads exactly Meghann! Just reading your post on Sept 19, 2013 and wondering what you discovered over time?? Please let me know. Thanks,

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    I also react to both xanthan gum and guar gums! I'm glad to see the discussion begin. I might try gelatin but, like many others, we just avoid baked goods. The whole revelation about gluten and other food sensitivities has led us to change the way we eat entirely.

    I too react severely to guar gum and now I'm suspicious of xanthan gum after eating it in a gluten free bread. I had quit gluten and dairy and had gone Paleo for some time with dramatic improvement in symptoms (rashes, joint pain, asthma). I recently began slowly adding in only gluten-free grains one at a time and seemed to be ok until the gluten-free bread with xanthan gum and "natural enzymes" was added into my diet.

    I react not just to soy but to all foods in the legume family. I finally found a brand of coconut milk that didn't have guar gum as a thickening agent. I kept getting breathing problems that a nebulizer couldn't help until I figured out legumes were a problem. I haven't had one asthma attack in over a year and half since figuring the legume thing out. Even a completely "natural soda was setting my asthma off and I didn't know why until they changed the ingredients list from "natural flavor" to gum Arabic. Beware legumes in other forms by other names. I had had all the traditional allergy tests but nothing was conclusive but my symptoms didn't change till' I did the elimination diet and got real good at label reading.

    Also I avoid GMO foods like the plague. Also, some people with leaky gut or IBS can't tolerate FODMAPS (fermentable, oligo, di monosaccharides and polyols glutenous grains are high in these). The low FODMAPS diet is having a lot of success in treating people with IBS, Crohn's and leaky gut issues with varied causes.

    I'm also very sensitive to molds so I wonder if my response to xanthan gum could be as simple as a mold sensitivity. I hope this is helpful in some way.

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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!

    Hi! How did you discover it was the gum? I've been trying to be gluten and dairy free for 5 years, but am now suspecting it's corn, sulfites or some kind of gum. I"m still having headaches, stuffy nose, and cold like symptoms. I just don't even know who to ask for help now, because my doctors have never been able to give me any answers. Thanks for any insight you can provide!

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    Bob's Red Mill brand (from a blog on their website) says that their Xanthan gum contains no corn products, but it is made from glucose derived from Wheat starch, supposedly gluten free, but for those sensitive to gluten, I would say that coming from wheat would be a clear reason to avoid it.

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

    I had the blood tests done and I have to stay away from millet, and I'm reading these posts to find out about sorghum....wondering if my current reaction is to sorghum. Are they related?

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    I had suspected and avoided Xanthan Gum for a while having been wheat free since my last Crohn's operation in 2008. I find Genius bread gives me no adverse reactions and has good taste and texture. They use psyllium husk powder but not xanthan Gum.

    Wanting to be sure of this, I baked a yeast free loaf today, with the now infamous xanthan and consumed several slices. Delicious, but I am paying the price with symptoms similar to if I had consumed wheat. I may be in for a long night.

    For years I have shunned yeast because I thought I had an intolerance. Perhaps I was a little hasty? I'll refrain from testing that hypothesis until next Monday.

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    Guest Michele Saranovich

    Posted

    The comments really tell the story here. All gum additives are evil. I am very allergic to any gum and have really been impacted by their addition to foods. I believe they are being used due to concern over gluten allergies. But I think that they are equally bad for people. I hope that food manufacturers start to realize this and wonder if we can have an impact upon what is added to food. Any ideas?

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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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