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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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    Thank you for posting this! I was noticing my gluten-free baking mixes were setting me off like a wheat reaction, and fast. I'm fine with gluten-free flours that are just one ingredient (the flour) and pasta that is just one or two ingredients (the flour and maybe salt or something simple and obvious like that). But yeah, after reading the comment about one brand getting their xanthan gum specifically from wheat... *facepalm* come on food industry! And that's the gluten-free food industry! What sucks is, I also have a ton of other allergies including dairy, soy, and all the migraine triggers, and some other random crap. At this point I'm pretty much declaring myself allergic to "food" because what I'm left that is edible just seems to screw me up the least. But I digress... thank you, and my digestive tract thanks you... or it will, once it's done agonizing over the gluten-free cupcakes I made myself for dinner.

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    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.

    I am happy to hear that someone else thinks xanthan gum problems might be caused by the fermentation process, and residual mold might be the source of the allergy problem. My allergist tested me for corn allergy to see if that was why xanthan gum seems to bother me, when I am very allergic to molds.

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    I read a lot of the comments, I'm not sure if anyone mentioned that there are lots of gums in commercially prepared ice cream. I can't eat ice cream or soft serve, that has xanthem gum in it. I get severe upper GI cramping and bloting after eating ice cream with xanthem gum.

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    Thank you for your story. I haven't had much luck with gluten free products containing xanthan gum. (bloating, gas and fluid retention). Recently I tried Betty Crocker all purpose gluten free rice flour blend and was pleasantly surprised that it tasted great and there were no ill effects. Its ingredients are rice flour, potato starch, tapioca starch, guar gum and salt. It also says it may contain soy ingredients. I stay away from soy too but had no problem.

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    I too get a stomach ache after eating baked goods with this ingredient.

    From an article I read:

    I mentioned in the opening section that xanthan gum is produced by bacterial fermentation of a sugar-containing medium. Unfortunately, that ‘medium' is often a potentially allergenic substance such as corn, soy, dairy, or wheat. Many xanthan gum manufacturers aren't eager to share what their ‘medium' is, but one common supplier, Bob's Red Mill, discloses their production practices.

     

    It looks like they originally used corn or soy as a medium, but they've since changed their medium to a glucose solution derived from wheat starch. However, they claim that the xanthan gum is still gluten-free, and it continues to be marketed as such.

     

    It can be difficult to find production info online, but just be aware that if you have a severe allergy to corn, soy, wheat, or dairy, it would be prudent to either avoid xanthan gum entirely or check with the manufacturer to see how it's produced.

    You can google Chris Kessler, his article Harmful or Harmless: Xanthan Gum

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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.

    Symptoms such as stomach pains, bloating and gas

    when using when eating Udi's bagels which has

    Xanthan gum. Same symptoms for you?

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    I'm disheartened how many products contain xanthan gum and other gums. It's out of control. It took me years to discover the problem to my severe reactions. I believe this is going to continue to be a huge problem!

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    It causes "necrotizing enterocolitis" in premies and cancer patients (who have compromised immune systems and have had antibiotics) - see Wikipedia article

    So what does it do to the normal folks, Let alone the adults with compromised immune systems, allergies and/or lots of antibiotics under our belt?!

    I've found that I'm better eating cheese or wheat than something with Xanthan gum!

    I've been sick for THREE YEARS and wonder how much less it would have been if I hadn't been eating all those processed gluten-free foods with Xanthan gum in them! Wow, I'm ticked now!

    Very interesting. I have been trying to narrow down an allergy of my 8 yrar old daughter. She was a preemie. She seems to have a reaction similar to the others. I have noticed everything with the label Xanthan Gum seems to bother her. This allergy started as a toddler with pasta pickups. Now I'm doing a food log to watch her food. It is not a severe allergy but is extremely annoying and makes her sick. She was a preemie and was only 2 lbs. Her twin has no reaction. I will be having her allergy tested again since it has been years since last. We tested for wheat before and a few other things.

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

    I found gluten free baking baking powder believe it or not. I use it in everything and it has never given me a problem. It is aluminum free, reduced sodium, and gluten free made in the good ole USA. Its name is Rumford Baking Powder. Tonight what brought me here is that I decided to use Xanthan gum for a change and had a terrible reaction. A horrible migraine headache which ruined my evening. I now know I am allergic to it. Thank goodness for this site.

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    I used Xanthan as a "thickener" for home-made (supposedly natural) deodorant. After a few times using it I started itching, but anti-histamine didn't help. After several weeks I went to the dermatologist who told me that my home-made deoderant was causing the problems. I threw most of it away, but kept one bottle in my sauna-bag. Yesterday I used it and am itching all over. I´m not sure this has anything to do with celiac, but it does go to show, that xanthan is not a good choice for anyone with ANY sensitivities.

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    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.

    Although I haven't actually tried it properly, I agree with you that Paleo must be very good. My gluten and other intolerances are healed and I can eat almost anything with any severe digestive problems, but I definitely feel better without grains and eat very little, with the result that I have also lost weight. Yippee!!!

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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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