Could Xanthan Gum be a Hidden Problem in Gluten Free Diets?

I have a wheat allergy that was self-diagnosed a couple years ago. Now that I have joined many others who find that eating a gluten free diet is far better than the after effects of wheat or gluten I’m also discovering that simply removing the primary cause of the symptoms isn’t enough.

I have no formal medical training at all. In fact, I struggle with even the teeniest bit of blood so I’m sharing this story and some interesting discoveries I made because over the past few years I have realized that we can learn a lot from each others trials and tribulations. Sometimes medicine won’t have an answer or will require more indepth input from us in order to effectively lead to a diagnosis and treatment. To do this, we have to be become detectives of our own body and rely on non-medical input to help us ask questions which will then lead to further information and results.

In my case, after years of pain and uncomfortable testing, my medical results finally determined there were no potentially deadly issues causing my symptoms. The tests also produced no concrete reason for the ongoing discomfort so I was given a label of ‘irritable bowel syndrome’ and left asking, ‘duh, then what’s irritating it?’

There’s another piece of my medical history that is interesting in this wheat, gluten, xanthan gum issue that I’m not entirely sure how it all connects but is has definately been impacted positively because of the wheat allergy discovery.  Perhaps someone reading this might also find repreive from other odd allergic reactions.

As I write this I’m snacking on a dish of raw nuts and some vegetables. This snack would have landed me in the hospital with anaphylactic shock only a few short months ago. For more than 20 years I have not been able to eat many fresh fruits and vegetables, and nuts were completely out of the question even if they were roasted. Allergy testing essentially told me that I had an enzyme deficiency so that when I ingested the foods, my body recognized them as foreign particles and triggered the allergic response. I assume this is what happens to people who are highly allergic to things like peanuts and bee stings. I have been a vegetarian for close to 15 years now so this inability to eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables meant that I was forced to cook them and therefore lose a lot of the nutritional and fibrous value of the foods. Clearly I was not healthy.

Here’s what happened and why it ultimately prompted me to share my story.

Once all the gut testing confirmed no physical reason for my chronic pain, diagnosing the wheat allergy actually was quite easy. I simply paid more attention to when the pain occurred and asked different questions about what what was going on in my life, or what I was eating that might have caused the reaction. One day I was busy and stressed and hungry and just wanted to enjoy some comfort food. I decided to whip up a batch of baking powder biscuits to eat warm out of the oven dripping with melted butter – yum. Unfortunately my comfort food turned into immediate gut pain. I took note, but said nothing.

Twice more over the next couple weeks a similar situation was repeated where I had an empty stomach and reached for a starchy, bread-like food for comfort. Each time I took notice that my guts almost immediately rebelled. I finally mentioned it to someone who suggested I might research a ‘gluten intolerance’. I quickly discovered that the issue was indeed an allergic reaction because of the immediate reaction. After a few more trial and error food samples I knew I had found the source of my pain.

Initially this discovery was like a miracle, except that every once in a while I’d eat something labelled ‘gluten free’ (because it’s pretty easy to source now days) and I would end still up with excruciating gut pain like before only the reaction wasn’t immediate. What I finally decided to do as a sort of ‘test’ was to more or less remove all ‘bready’, starchy type foods from my diet for a while to see what happened. Here’s where the story get’s interesting.

The first part is to be expected: I lost a bunch of weight likely because essentially I had reduced a lot of carbohydrates from my diet. But, I discovered quite by accident that raw carrots didn’t create the allergic ‘itching’ in my throat that they had before. Then I noticed that raw celery also didn’t produce that allergic sensitivity. I was curious so tried a few other foods, raw broccoli, apples, plums,… When these didn’t produce any ill-effects at all, I ventured into trying roasted almonds then what had I had always thought was the food that would produce the worst reaction: hazelnuts. Nothing. So I got brave and ventured into raw nuts and still no allergic or adverse reaction. Now that’s a miracle as far as I’m concerned.

Something had obviously changed in my blood chemistry to enable me to eat without pain in my gut and to now be able to enjoy fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts that I hadn’t been able to eat for over 20 years! And, a bonus to all this was that I had lots of energy and had lost weight that seemed to be stuck on me since the birth of our daughter 15 years ago. Hallelujah! Almost.

When you become aware of how your body reacts to what you put in it and you discover something that results in dramatic positive results you are that much more sensitive to negative reactions. Especially when they are so bad, they almost land you in the hospital and make you sick for a couple of days – which brings me to the xanthan gum issue.

I became suspicious of this substance early in this detective process because on one occasion I experienced the gut pain a few hours after eating something that had all ‘safe’ ingredients except the xanthan gum. But since I was able to eat other foods containing xanthan gum without problems my theory wasn’t conclusive. That is, until I learned something interesting about the sources of xanthan gum during my research this week.

I made a beautiful Greek salad late one evening and opened a new bottle of balsamic vinaigrette dressing to use. I went to bed soon after eating and woke up the next day with severe gut pain and all the ugly reactions that go with it, including a new symptom:  nausea. Uugghh, I reasoned that because I hadn’t eaten anything unusual I must have the flu. The next day those symptoms were gone, only now I had a headache on top of the other issues.   The following day, I was back to normal and was sure I had suffered from the flu. Until I had another salad with the same dressing on it only this time I was awake when the bloating and gut pains started. Since I knew all the vegetables in the salad were ok I asked my husband to check to see if there was xanthan gum in the dressing. Sure enough there was. But, when we looked closer there was xanthan gum in all the salad dressings in the fridge that I had been eating without problems.

As the symptoms worsened, I decided to do some research online and discovered that I am not alone in experiencing xanthan gum side-effects. Here is one story that particularly resonated with what I was experiencing: .

As I continued my search I discovered that xanthan gum is normally made from corn, but can also be made from wheat and soya. What?  A primary substance used in gluten free diets that are the result of wheat intolerances actually made from wheat?

Here’s one link that describes the potential side-effects and how people who are sensitive to wheat and soya could suffer from xanthan gum side-effects as a result.

It seemed to me that perhaps the reason I could eat some salad dressings containing xanthan gum and not this particular one might be that the source of the xanthan gum that was causing me so much grief was perhaps made from wheat. Unfortunately the label only mentions the ingredient and not the source of the xanthan gum itself.

As the evening went on I was in so much pain, I decided I should just go to bed and hope to sleep off most of the ill-effects. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case, and in fact at one point in the night I was concerned that I might have to go to the hospital because my mouth was dry my and throat was swelling like it used to from my previous fruit, nut and vegetable reactions. The next day I experienced the same horrible symptoms, nausea and unrelenting gut pain that I had a few days before. Plus similar to the first time and similar to what was shared by others online, within about 24 hours those symptoms subsided except the follow up headache.  Uugghh. More than 36 hours of agony from what my husband describes as a miniscule amount of the substance.

I have now discovered something that has the potential to land me in the hospital if I ingest it. But my severe reactions prompt me to ask some serious questions about this substance that is one of the most popular thickening agents used in gluten free recipes and many many other common foods and body products.

Why is the source of the xanthan gum not identified?  It seems I’m not the first person to discover that the different sources for production of this ingredient will produce different side-effects? If wheat gluten is the most common culprit for people suffering from gluten related ailments, why would xanthan gum made from a wheat bacteria be used in the gluten free products that are supposed to be a ‘safe’ alternative for people with these wheat related issues?

I welcome your stories, input and comments on this issue. More and more people are becoming aware of their issues with wheat and gluten. The positive health benefits to adjusting your diet accordingly are enormous, not just because you feel better, but also economically as well. My area of expertise is finance and business so I know the tremendous economic benefit to dietary changes that result in increased energy, clarity and overall health. The benefit of changing your diet and living a healthier lifestyle is immeasurable. And beyond that there is a changing food industry providing healthy alternatives that result in a healthier population. It seems to me that we have a lot to gain from increased awareness and proper information on what we’re putting in our bodies. Hopefully sharing my story will assist someone else and perhaps as more people do so, we will in some way also be able to positively impact the food industry to support a healthier economy.


One thought on “Could Xanthan Gum be a Hidden Problem in Gluten Free Diets?

  1. Cathy Nicolaides

    I recently discovered that xanthan gum and carrageenan causes me intestinal pain and other digestive problems. I read that, xanthan gum was linked to the death of 14 premature infants due to it’s inclusion in a formula called simply thick. If your digestive system is fragile its best to avoid both of these thickening agents. Carrageenan was causing me to have gas, diarrhea and bloating; once I realized the culprit I stopped using it and the symptoms went away. Same thing happened when I would consume xanthan gum. If I used coconut cream with xanthan gum in the ingredients I would get pain. I am not allergic to coconut cream. I have a problem with diary though, so I opted for dairy free products, some of which had carrageenan. I have eliminated the ones with it. I am now keeping an eye out on food that uses xanthan gum as a thickener. I understand that xanthan gum can be made from wheat, soy, corn or dairy and the FDA should make food corporations include from which source the xanthan gum comes from for people who suffer with allergies and sensitivities. I don’t believe either one is safe in long term consumption. I had been consuming for quite a while before my symptoms started. Carrageenan has been linked to intestinal lining inflammation. There are articles written on it. Inflammation can take a while to manifest itself before a person has symptoms and some people never figure out what is causing their symptoms. I happen to read alot and eat very healthy unless someone slips in something like these two products making a healthy product not so healthy ,afterall. Best thing companies could do is to write SHAKE IT UP on the container. For gluten free bread there are other alternatives for thickening agents.


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