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    Could Xanthan Gum Sensitivity be Complicating your Celiac Disease Recovery?

    Wendy Cohan, RN

    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'm glad to know I'm not the only one! Isn't it funny that guar gum is cheaper, corn free and fermentation free - it makes me wonder why anyone uses xanthan gum.

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    I am also sensitive to guar gum with the same type of symptoms and have chosen to eliminate baked goods except for occasional mochi.

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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.

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    Guest sally berk

    Posted

    I have noticed a sensitivity to xanthan gum and was very glad to get confirmation through this article.

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    Thanks for the tip, Wendy. I used half potato flour in my last loaf of bread and the texture was MUCH better than using just rice flours. I think I'll use it often!

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    I had just begun suspecting that I had a problem with Xanthum Gum. I had not been able to get it and purchased Guar Gum instead.

     

    I just got a bread maker and made the raisin bread recipe. No problems. We have access to several different locally produced gluten free breads. I have a huge problem with my favorite.

     

    I just started wondering if the Xanthum Gum was the issue and am very grateful for this article.

     

    Thank you.

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    Guest Jami R.

    Posted

    Xantham Gum made me sick too.I threw out the bag I bought. I'm glad it wasn't just me. I never thought of Guar Gum, though. You have to mix up your own Gluten Free Flour.

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    Guest Jami R.

    Posted

    Have you heard of Konjac Root? I learned on a site called Gluten Free baking pans that it can be used like Xanthan Gum. I bought it from an herbal supplier.

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    Guest Deborah Thompson

    Posted

    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.

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    Guest kathycamp@kos.net

    Posted

    Found the above very enlightening as I also had to figure out that I was sensitive to Xanthan Gum by comparing two gluten free breads I had bought, one with the other without. Hard to find out everything Xanthan Gum is in and it is not always put on the label if it is in ice cream.

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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 book "Gluten-Free PORTLAND" is a comprehensive resource guide to the gluten-free diet and is available on my website www.glutenfreechoice.com. My other websites are: www.WellBladder.com and www.neighborhoodnurse.net.

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