Going Gluten-FreeFebruary 27, 2017

Is Gluten Removed Beer Celiac Safe?

Gluten removed beer may not be celiac safe, a Gluten Intolerance Group study reveals.

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Posted by Erica Dermer

Gluten removed beer may not be celiac safe, a Gluten Intolerance Group study reveals.

Our magazine has always been for those with celiac disease, as well as those with non-celiac gluten (or wheat) sensitivities. While gluten-free food and beverages are often lumped into one gluten-free category, sometimes we need to revisit a food or beverage group to look at specifically when new research arises. 

 

The Gluten Intolerance Group conducted a webinar where they presented an in-depth look at some of the first research that really shows there can/will be harm for (some) celiacs when they drink gluten removed beer, based on this study using their serum.

 

Laura K. Allred PhD, the Regulatory and Standards Manager of the Gluten Intolerance Group, completed this study. “The Celiac Patient Antibody Response to Gluten Removed Beer” study was originally run to test how celiac patients’ serum (just their blood, not feeding celiacs beer – as fun as that experiment might sound) might be used to look for residual gluten fragments in fermented and hydrolyzed products, to use in the future for product safety. 

Last year, the FDA issued a ruling stating that fermented and hydrolyzed products made from gluten containing grains cannot be labeled gluten free, because gluten test methods cannot accurately detect gluten being broken down this way. Why is this? When you break down a gluten-containing grain with fermented and hydrolyzed products, you create smaller proteins. These smaller products are often difficult to find using current test methods, eliciting negative results using traditional methods in gluten testing.

 

As a quick background, during the fermentation process the yeast (in layman’s terms) “chews up” the gluten protein in the barley extract in beer. What are left behind after fermentation are short chains of amino acids, teeny-tiny protein fragments. The question is how well would these small protein fragments be detected by gluten test kits? A current gluten-detecting methodology is made to test one tiny protein, but we know that gluten is a mix of several proteins that celiacs can react to. If there are some of the antibodies left from the original proteins, then yes, a gluten-detecting test can detect gluten. However, the test usually yields an inaccurate result, when the proteins are so broken up in fermentation process.

But the process is even more complicated in gluten-removed beer, as brewers add an additional enzymatic hydrolysis step, after the fermentation. During this step, the enzyme recognizes prolein (a protein), and the enzyme cuts it up. After this step, there is no amino acid sequence left that the gluten test kit antibody can recognize, so the test kit finds it negative for gluten. However, there are multiple amino acid sequences that can react to someone with celiac disease, and they are different for different people! Your body might recognize something that the test kit doesn’t.

Gluten Intolerance Group used traditional, gluten-free beer, and gluten-removed beer in the research. During the research process, they found several antibodies from active celiac disease patients bound to the traditionally brewed beer and bound to the gluten-removed beer. This shows that there can be a reaction for those with celiac disease when they drink gluten-removed beer. Per the Gluten Intolerance Group, “this research suggests that in some gluten-removed beers, protein fragments may remain after processing that could cause a gluten reaction.”

According to Gluten Intolerance Group CEO Cynthia Kupper, “The medical and scientific community has not validated or accepted that these low-gluten or gluten-removed beers are safe because available gluten testing methods have not been sufficiently accurate with fermented and hydrolyzed products…That is why we conducted this first-of-its-kind study, because even if one person with celiac reacts to gluten-removed beers, it shows it would not be appropriate to certify this product category according to our standards.”

I had a chance to ask the presenter, Laura Allred, some follow up questions. I really wanted to know the implications of this research and this study for the gluten-free community as a whole.

 

What I hope the gluten-free community takes away from this is that GIG is trying to make decisions regarding gluten-free products based on scientific principles, and when we learn something it will be our goal to share that information with the public. I also feel that a study like this should be a jumping-off point for conversation within the community. Use the information that we collectively have and don't shy away from asking questions about processes, the meaning of certification labels, and how studies like these can tell us more about the products available to us. 

 

For gluten-removed beer or any product that starts from a gluten-containing grain, I would suggest they [those with celiac] proceed with caution. We didn’t test every gluten-removed beer on the market, only one, and some of the methods for gluten-removal are proprietary, so there’s a chance that some of the gluten-removed beers on the market are safe. But until we have good methods for accurately assessing the safety of these products, people should be careful about experimenting on themselves.


How does this study affect the way you view gluten-removed beers, if at all?

Do you have questions? Visit this Gluten Intolerance Group FAQ about this study here: https://www.gluten.org/gluten-free-vs-gluten-removed-beer-study-q/ and read more here: https://www.gluten.org/branchnews/gigbeerstudy/.

 

Erica Dermer, founder and head celiac in charge of Celiac and the Beast, started her blog because she felt like she had a new voice to bring to the gluten-free table and needed some celiac catharsis through writing. With a background in marketing and market research and development (including the food and beverage industry), she’s always had a soft spot in her heart for packaged goods, marketing, and branding in the gluten-free food industry. It also helps that she’s a self-proclaimed terrible cook, so she relies on many gluten-free products to help her get through her day without burning down the kitchen. She uses humor to get through her diagnosis and living gluten-free in a world full of wheat. She has partnered with her non-celiac significant other, who not only designs gluten-free themed merchandise for Celiac and the Beast, but is a key taste-tester for the brand.

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