Coffee and Gluten Sensitivity: Never the Twain Shall Meet?Gluten Free, Green Living, Healthy Living
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.
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
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The Healthy Home Economist holds a Master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Mother to 3 healthy children, blogger, and best-selling author, she writes about the practical application of Traditional Diet and evidence-based wellness within the modern household. Her work has been featured by USA Today, The New York Times, ABC, NBC, and many others.