Coffee and Gluten Sensitivity: Never the Twain Shall Meet?

by Sarah Gluten Free, Green Living, Healthy LivingComments: 39

Coffee and gluten sensitivity

Gluten is a difficult to digest plant protein found in some grains such as wheat, rye, and barley. It was discovered by Buddhist monks in the 7th century who were searching for a substitute for meat and found that when dough is submerged in water, the starch washes off and a meat-like gummy mass remained – the gluten.

Dough containing gluten has elastic properties that help it rise and keep its shape when baked. Hence, breads, cookies, crackers and other refined grain products containing gluten are favored by food manufacturers as they are ideal for mass production, shipping long distances without crumbling and stocking on supermarket shelves for long periods of time.

Unfortunately, the modern diet overloaded with gluten containing foods combined with the epidemic of digestive disorders and autoimmune illness has forced many people to go completely gluten free to regain their health. Emerging and rapidly evolving research in this area has uncovered the fact that the proteins in other foods can sometimes cross-react with gluten antibodies in sensitive individuals much like those with peanut allergies can potentially also react to soy, its legume relative.

In similar fashion, coffee and gluten have been found to be common cross-reactors with processed coffee eliciting the most severe reaction of all, triggering symptoms in those who are otherwise completely gluten free.

I initially discussed this new research last year with Primal Body, Primal Mind author Nora Gedgaudas CNS, CNT, who is an expert on coffee and gluten sensitivity and subsequently wrote an article about it in the Spring 2012.

This 2012 article recently triggered a firestorm of additional discussion on Facebook based on a paper published in the Journal of Food and Nutrition Sciences in January 2013, authored by Aristo Vojdani.

I emailed Ms. Gedgaudas about this latest research on coffee and gluten cross-reactivity to obtain her input and received this very helpful and detailed response which she gave me permission to reprint here:

“This is a very confusing and complex topic and it takes some effort to stay on top of all the most recent developments.

In my conversations with Aristo Vojdani and others at Cyrex labs, plus talking to people that have been trained by them to teach others this is what seems to be the current understanding:

The coffee used in their testing was the highly processed variety (i.e., pre-ground and/or instant). Apparently, there is something that occurs during processing to make this particular type of coffee highly cross-reactive. It seems to be most likely having to do with cross-contamination with gluten during the processing and storage of this type of product.  It may possibly have to do with the effect that processing has upon the proteins contained in coffee beans. It’s still being investigated, last I heard. Also, it seems to be a different story for organic, whole roasted coffee beans (i.e., the good stuff).

The other side to this question has to do with coffee’s degree of cross-reactivity. Interestingly, of all the cross-reactive compounds, this particular type of coffee seems to elicit the most severe cross reaction.  It is not the most common cross-reactive compound, but it does have the most pronounced cross-reactivity of all of them. Confusing, I know. The single most common cross-reactive substance with gluten is dairy, hands-down (and, more specifically, casein). Roughly half of all people having gluten sensitivity also have a dairy sensitivity. And if you’re sensitive to any protein component of dairy, then dairy is off-limits–permanently. All gluten cross-reactivities are considered permanent sensitivities, as they will react in your body as though they contained gluten– all generating zonulin and inducing intestinal permeability. The body’s immune system simply cannot tell the difference.  That is the nature of cross-reactivity.”

Do Coffee and Gluten Ever Mix?

Ms. Gedgaudas advises caution when consuming coffee if you are gluten sensitive.  If you absolutely must drink it, she recommends the following protocol:

  • Avoid greasy spoon coffee joints like the plague, as well as cheap coffee brands like Folgers and Maxwell House, etc (i.e., the processed varieties) permanently.
  • Once some of the antigen load is cleared from the body by being gluten free and coffee free for a period of time, a cup of organic, whole bean coffee can be cautiously tried to see whether any symptoms of cross-reactivity are experienced or not.

Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

 

Sources and More Information

Why You Need to Change WHEN You Drink Coffee

How Bulletproof Coffee Shoots You in the Foot

Is Caffeine Causing Your Chronic Back Pain

The Truth About Your Morning Coffee Fix

Healthy Coffee Substitutes

Gluten Sensitivity or Celiac? Don’t Drink Coffee!

Cross-Reaction between Gliadin and Different Food and Tissue Antigens

Picture Credit

Comments (39)

  • Jon

    Maybe tea is a good alternative to coffee, if you are sensitive. Try out Zest Tea (getzesttea.com) if you don’t want to sacrifice the caffeine boost.

    October 1st, 2014 8:11 pm Reply
  • Suzan H

    My cyrex testing came back non-reactive to coffee. I was told just to be sure of my source of the beans and to grind it myself at home.

    August 22nd, 2014 3:21 pm Reply
  • Claudia Larsson

    I am gluten sensitive and maintain a gluten free diet. I do occasionally drink coffee – and when I do, it is ONLY organic, and whole bean. Just recently I had a reaction to it – headache, gastric issues, then full blown migraine. And the coffee I drank was a reputable, organic coffee that I ground myself. So I’m not sure it’s just the ‘garbage’ kind of coffee..

    August 9th, 2014 11:11 am Reply
  • Renee Russell via Facebook

    Yeah I post a lot about coffee. ..but actually only have one or two a week. .but should completely stop

    June 1st, 2014 10:58 pm Reply
  • Mary Parrish-Mercer via Facebook

    I’m glad to see more investigation done on this subject :) :) I have gluten sensitivity and every other (in rare cases) sensitivity they list… I choose my coffee wisely and only drink the {good stuff} I’m fine!! I did give up coffee for nearly two years because of the first article on this subject.

    June 1st, 2014 8:33 am Reply
  • Lorna Jones via Facebook

    Interesting. I’ve had the Cyrex cross reactive foods blood test and it came back that I was reactive to dairy (whey protein) but coffee was ok. None the less, instant makes me feel dreadful (perhaps for some other reason) so I stick to organic whole beans and grind them myself because that just makes good sense to me all round.

    June 1st, 2014 3:10 am Reply
  • Kathy Bohnert via Facebook

    Both my son and I have sensitivities to gluten, dairy, and coffee along with a few other foods.

    June 1st, 2014 1:09 am Reply
  • Pingback: Lettre d’amour à la caféine | Paléo Québec

  • Dr Todd

    I use cyrex labs extensively in my office and have had this question come up quite a bit from my patients. I personally trust Dr. Vojdani’s opinions on this topic. The latest is that the testing was on highly processed coffee (instant). The cyrex array #4 (cross reactivity panel) may show positive for coffee yet the patient may still be able to drink non-instant. The funny thing about your picture you have for this thread is that the only instant they tested that wasn’t contaminated came from starbucks.

    November 10th, 2013 8:05 am Reply
  • Sylvie

    Coffee substitute recipe: Chai. I’ve recently quit coffee due to my gluten sensitivity and the cross reaction. I was drinking decaf french roast for many years. I discovered this recipe which I find to be as good if not better since I have no reaction to it except sheer delight. I just want to say that I feel so very different since taking this very large step towards health. The recipe is as follows (it will last a long time): 1 tbsp whole black peppercorns, 9 (3″ inch) cinnamon sticks broken into pieces, 1 tbsp whole cloves, 1/2 tsp fennel seeds, 2 tbsp whole green cardamon pods, 2 tbsp ground dried ginger, 1 tsp turmeric powder. Put all ingredients in spice grinder or powerful blender. Process to fine powder.
    Recipe for chai: 1/2 tsp of chai powder, 2 black tea bags, 16 oz of hot water, some sweetener like stevia, splash of non dairy milk (I use almond milk). Let it brew for 5 minutes and enjoy.

    October 20th, 2013 11:34 am Reply
  • Merry

    Sarah, I am just overwhelmed by all the information, so please forgive me if I am asking something that has already been addressed elsewhere. I have type 2 diabetes, but I am going to beat the typical Conventional Wisdom protocol and someday not have to take meds. I LOVE my morning coffee and know it is only because it is sweet and creamy. I would never drink black coffee, though I have tried. My question is, what sweetener can I use that won’t affect my blood glucose, or affect it much? I was using splenda, then went on to Stevia in the Raw, now I have SweetLeaf Stevia, powder form. If the last is bad for me, and if you don’t have an answer as to what I CAN use, I’ll just have to give up my coffee. Not the end of the world, but the little pleasure I get to have is taken from me. Do you have some counsel for me? Thank you so much for all you do!

    October 16th, 2013 8:15 pm Reply
    • Sarah TheHealthyHomeEconomist

      Hi Merry, if your blood sugar is well controlled, coconut sugar might be a good one to try as it is low glycemic. Check with your doctor first however.

      October 16th, 2013 9:09 pm Reply
    • karen

      Please research xylitol. I remember reading that it follows a different absorption pathway in the body, and doesnt cause the negative sugar reactions. For this reason, xylitol is used in Scandinavia countries for diabetics.

      November 9th, 2013 1:15 pm Reply
    • Dr. Todd

      The product I refer my patients to is Kal brand pure stevia. It is the best with no aftertaste. What you will find in a lot of other products is fillers and even other sugars.

      November 10th, 2013 7:56 am Reply
  • deb cunningham

    I started drinking coffee after nursing school. I’m not fond of taste but grew to tolerate it. I immediately noticed a change in my body. Years later, I was still convinced that coffee had some kind of strange reaction for me. This helps me understand it more. I do feel coffee also has a negative effect w/ the PH of our body also. Please keep us informed on this subject. My father was celiac but I have been tested negative . However, I can tell that there is some type of sensitivity so I try to stay gluten free. I alway feel better.

    October 7th, 2013 5:32 am Reply
  • Naino

    This is surprising because im a coffee lover. I am more becoming serious and cautios in choosing gluten-free coffee. Thanks a bunch Sarah!

    October 6th, 2013 11:32 pm Reply
  • Kris

    Moderation has nothing to do with a severe gluten allergy. Even a tiny bit for some people can cause an extreme reaction. In my case, I have DH, a specific type of gluten intolerance and if I even have a tiny bit, or anything with a lot of iodine, I will be in hell, sores all over my body, migraines, and skin that feels like it is on fire. I appreciate your comment Steven, but not sure what it has to do with people who actually have an issue with gluten. Nice to know that someone who does not have the issue that this article is discussing feels free to share his bread experience, but I can assure you that “moderation” is not going to be helpful for people who have an issue with gluten. Sounds like you enjoy your coffee and bread, thanks for sharing. Not helpful though.

    September 18th, 2013 3:50 pm Reply
    • Suzan H

      If you have Celiac, even not having a reaction is not adequate. A celiac should not have any wheat or gluten because reaction or not you are definitely causing bowel and stomach inflammation and damage to the villi. There is no “moderation”.

      August 22nd, 2014 3:23 pm Reply
  • Parti

    I have been off gluten & dairy for several decades. I do not have a diagnosis and would not be interested in what science has to say about m gut, my experience is what guides me. What I know is that if I avoid gluten & dairy I am healthy, if I consume them I am not. While scientists are busy researching here is what I know to be true: It does not matter what form of coffee it is or how it is brewed/treated/etc. I do believe I have experimented with them all, including green fermented organic beans. If I consume it in any form then my gut reacts just as if I have consumed gluten. I am a professional nutritionist and this is the experience of the majority of my gluten free patients. My suggestion: Do yourself a favor, drop the coffee for a week or so (if you miss the caffeine drink tea) and listen to your own body. It knows best.

    September 18th, 2013 3:27 pm Reply
    • Vince

      I couldn’t agree more with the idea that you can do tests on yourself and then ‘listen’ to what your body is saying about what you are eating or drinking. I think for some people though, they don’t know how to listen to their bodies. Some feel something sometimes, it’s just a little something and for some it is ignored. Either it is not a strong enough feeling to acknowledge as something wrong or they have become used to whatever it is they are feeling and they are blocking it out. I know for my gluten intolerance, there was something going on for years, but that feeling, the feeling that I know now as gluten sensitivity, I didn’t think it was anything more than some benign digestive disturbance. I think the key message in listening to your body, is you should not feel anything, nothing at all, only then can you say your body is good. Any minor disturbance should be suspect.

      July 31st, 2014 12:15 pm Reply
  • Jennifer Ronson

    I have a severe gluten sensitivity (need to be tested for celiac) and have been off gluten for a year and a half. I am extremely anemic and am still having gut/health issues. I drink 1 decaf cup of coffee a day but am wondering if I need to cut that out as well. Also, when tested for gluten sensitivity, they said I had a mild (or moderate…can’t remember) dairy sensitivity and could have it a few times a week but not to overdue it. I’ve been struggling with giving up the dairy and coffee – two of my favorites. Do you think giving up these two things could help with my anemia? How can I know for sure if dairy and coffee are a problem for me – are there any tests? Finally, the dr. wants me to get a colonoscopy and biopsy to check for celiac. Is this the best way to check even though I’ve been off wheat for so long? Thanks!

    September 18th, 2013 2:23 pm Reply
  • Laura N.

    OT for this post, but please look into iodine for your breast fibroids. I had a terrible case and the iodine took it away completely in just a couple of months!

    September 17th, 2013 11:06 pm Reply
  • Annie

    I am originally from Miami where people drink cuban coffee all around the clock. It’s a highly concentrated coffee similar to italian espresso. I am 34 years old now and when I was young I couldn’t stand drinking cuban coffee. It never sat well with me and I found it to be very bitter. At 28 years old, I was diagnosed with Multiple sclerosis and since 1 year ago , I have been on the GAPS diet. I have healed myself tremendously even though I still have a way’s to go. I went through a phase of 1.5 years when I was about 26-27 where I couldn’t function without american coffee in the mornings. THis is a much diluted version compared to the cuban coffee. THankfully, that only lasted about 1 year and I dropped it after that. I think for me there was some type of cross-reactivity for me because I always felt awful after I ate grains and cuban coffee was repulsive for me.

    September 17th, 2013 9:28 pm Reply
  • IdahoLaura

    What I discovered about dairy and gluten intolerance is because of a grandmother wanting unpasteurized (REAL) milk for an 8 mth old grandson that was severely gluten intolerant. My knowledge of gluten intolerance was from my s-i-l who just talked about wheat. My goats don’t get wheat. So I delivered milk and grandma called and asked what my goats ate. I checked the label and told her barley, oats, a little corn, peas and a protein pellet. That is when I learned about gluten.

    I called feed mills all over southern ID with no luck except from my regular supplier. He made up a ration of milo, corn (only a little…goats don’t do well on very much), peas and the protein pellet. This supplier buys only locally grown, non-GMO grains for feed. So, after a week on the new diet, grandma and grandson came down. Because he was projectile vomiting when the milk hit his stomach, she fed him some of the new milk by my kitchen sink. We were amazed when he kept it down! While talking, we found out we were close in age and when our children were born in the 70’s, doctors didn’t encourage breast feeding and pushed formulas. Both of us breastfed with no real help from the medical community. My doctor did tell me to watch what I ate. Certain foods I ate would affect the baby. The light bulb went off. What is fed to dairy cows and goats are barley & oats and that gluten is going out in the milk.

    I fed that little boy for 1.5 yrs and he grew, slept and played very well. I would have continued but my feed mill was out of milo and I dry my gals up for 60 days til they kid in the spring. They went to almond milk as it was a bit cheaper than my milk ($7.50/gal). They were happy I was willing to experiment with the gals feed. Since I was on milk test monthly and weigh daily, I could track their production and they did just fine.

    Something to think about.
    Laura

    September 17th, 2013 6:55 pm Reply
  • Steven Reiley

    I went gluten free and coffee free a few years ago. I noticed no difference in my health. I do not have celiac. I enjoy both again now. We grind our own coffee beans. Don’t know if that makes a difference or not. We also make our own bread from freshly ground grains primarily because I like the fact that I know the ingredients. Our favorite loaf is made with a cup of whole wheat, a cup of oats and a cup of bread flour, water, yeast and salt. It is really good bread for toast. We add almonds from time to time. We have made gluten free breads before but they were not all that good (perhaps we have not found the right recipe). Anyway, we practice moderation. I only drink a cup or two of coffee a week. I mostly drink tea. And for the bread, it is mostly for breakfast and the occasional sandwich. Not more than a loaf a week.

    September 17th, 2013 5:26 pm Reply
  • Jen

    Hi Kelly, I also get nauseous when I drink green tea. I guess it’s usually on an empty stomach when I drink it, but probably not always. So interesting that I’m not the only one; I thought maybe it was just me. I really wonder what is going on that makes some people nauseous with green tea. Anyone have any thoughts?

    I really enjoy coffee too, and would like to decrease my consumption. I never buy cheap stuff and usually grind my own quality beans. I have tried Dandy Blend (coffee substitute I guess) and it’s pretty good, but I find it has too much natural sweetness for my system.

    September 17th, 2013 12:49 pm Reply
    • Jen

      Oops, I meant to be replying to Caneel.

      September 17th, 2013 1:00 pm Reply
  • Beth Smith

    I am 12 weeks pregnant so I have been off coffee for a while now because it sounds repulsive to me. I normally LOVE it. I do feel like my anxiety is better being off coffee even though I would only have 1 cup in the morning and it was good quality coffee. A while back, I was introduced to Teeccino as a coffee alternative. I have high acidity that is affecting my teeth and the Teeccino is PH neutral and totally caffeine free. it actually tastes really good and I can make it in my french press just like my coffee, so psychologically it “feels” the same. the website is http://teeccino.com/
    I also recently tried the Crio Bru which is made from roasted and ground cocoa beans. it has a ton of health benefits and antioxidants and it tastes really good. it is kind of expensive to make a pot of just the Crio Bru (because it takes a lot to make a pot), so I have been adding a bit of Crio Bru to my Teeccino and it is a wonderful combination. Their website is: http://www.criobru.com/crio-bru/
    I am gluten sensitive but you should know that the Teeccino is made with barley. they claim that there is no gluten in the Teeccino and I have never had an issue with it. they also sell a dandelion version that does not have the barley if you are really concerned. their statement from their website says “Although barley also contains gluten, brewed Teeccino is gluten free as verified by independent laboratory tests at the University of Nebraska, the top gluten testing laboratory in the US. Organic barley used in Teeccino is grown both in the US and Europe.”

    September 17th, 2013 12:28 pm Reply
  • Scarlett

    I have celiac too and I’ve been in denial about the coffee thing. :( I just tried some yesterday and within minutes I had the worse headache and stomachache. I’ve been avoiding it too but thought I would give it a try yesterday. I just need to give it up, plus I’m breastfeeding and I think it’s affecting my baby as well.

    September 17th, 2013 11:56 am Reply
  • Peter Staniscia

    Great article Sarah! I will be sure to post on Twitter. Have a great day!

    September 17th, 2013 11:38 am Reply
  • Cheryl White

    Wow! Very interesting. Now I know why I feel like garbage after breakfast when we are on holidays – the bad, processed coffee. I guess it’ll be tea for me. Thank you for your cutting edge articles!

    September 17th, 2013 10:55 am Reply
  • Kelly

    Caneel,

    I usually get nauseous when I drink green tea on an empty stomach. Maybe that’s the case for you too?

    September 17th, 2013 10:50 am Reply
    • Kelly

      Oh I’m sorry :( Well, my new go-to is chocolate powder (the good stuff) with coconut milk and any spices I feel like adding (cinnamon, nutmeg, etc). It gives me that creamy drink I crave without the dairy and coffee. I think I’ll make some now!

      September 17th, 2013 11:12 am Reply
  • Kelly

    I have been gluten free for almost a year. I really saw a turning point in my health when I decided to cut out coffee completely about a month ago. My neck pain disappeared and my mood improved dramatically. I guess there could be other variables, but my gut (pardon the pun) is telling me that coffee contributed to some serious issues…and I was only having one cup (organic hand ground and brewed) a day! I love coffee with all my heart, so eliminating it was a big step for me – but well worth it.

    September 17th, 2013 10:38 am Reply
  • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

    Liz, I would be very interested to see that research about poor Vit D absorption and caffeine. If you have a chance, please post a link. Thanks :)

    September 17th, 2013 7:58 am Reply
    • Liz

      Hi Sarah,

      I can’t find it again! Gah! I knew I should have bookmarked it.

      It is pretty well known that caffeine inhibits iron absorption, but the gist of this study was that even 1 cup/day for some people will have the same outcome.

      I really do believe that coffee is very disruptive to the healthy functioning of digestion so it doesn’t surprise me.

      I guess I’ll see what my results look like at my next blood test in 2 months.

      September 18th, 2013 6:56 pm Reply
  • Liz

    Just to add to my comment – I still have anaemia and very low vit D, despite 18 months strictly gluten free. I have read some interesting research that suggests some people will not absorb these two things properly until they are completely caffeine free. Even 1 cup/day can be too much.

    Excuse the poor grammar, my toddler is climbing all over me.

    September 16th, 2013 10:49 pm Reply
    • susan

      Hi, 6 months on a completly gf diet I had the same problem with anaemia and my doctor suggested I come off lactose..within weeks my iron levels were up and I was feeling great. That was 3 years ago, now I have an odd bar of chocolate with no ill effects. Worth a try..

      February 5th, 2014 3:44 pm Reply
  • Liz

    This article is very timely…

    I have celiac disease and I am on Day 2 no coffee.

    I’ll be interested to read other people’s thoughts.

    September 16th, 2013 10:42 pm Reply

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