Do you have coeliac disease and oddly find that you can’t tolerate gluten free beer?
The USA’s Gluten Intolerance Group www.gluten.org discuss a laboratory study carried out at Chicago University in the video below and conclude that coeliacs may be damaging their gut with “gluten removed” beer; that’s what we know as “gluten free” beer in the UK. This is a pilot study and calls for more research but it’s a good start in understanding the gluten reactions many coeliacs get when drinking GF beer.
Watch the YouTube video below for a detailed and interesting 55mins…
What is Gluten Free Beer?
In the UK and EU, “Gluten Free” beer is beer made from gluten or non-gluten ingredients that show gluten in test results to be below 20 parts per million. In some other countries, the criteria is different and more descriptive terminology is used such as Naturally Gluten Free (no gluten ingredients) and Gluten Removed (normal gluten ingredients beer treated with an enzyme). So in the UK “Gluten Free” can mean both.
GF beer made by removing the gluten
The removal of gluten involves two gluten ‘reducing’ processes, fermenting and hydrolyzing. Fermentation involves yeast nibbling away at the gluten protein DNA but like most nibbling it leaves crumbs – fragments of gluten DNA. Hydrolyzation is where brewers add an enzyme to clarify beer called Clarex. This enzyme targets the proline amino-acid in gluten and further nibbles away at the gluten fragments. Unfortunately, the yeast and enzyme don’t leave a clean plate after their meal!
Gluten is actually a group name for the proteins we’re interested in. There are two protein groups, gliadin and glutenin, which are implicated in coeliac reactions. In a separate piece of research carried out by Francisco Barro’s team at the Institute for Sustainable Agriculture in Cordoba, Spain, they found that gliadin protein has no fewer than 45 copies of the problematic part of the DNA that causes coeliac reactions. Knowing this, its easy to understand coeliacs responding to one of these short piece copies of the DNA sequence. Consequently, fermenting and hydrolyzing might be similar to putting a document through a first generation paper shredder – useful parts of the message can be left exposed!
The ELISA test is commonly used to determine whether a product is gluten-free or not. It can only consistently identify gluten at over 20ppm. That’s why 20ppm was picked as the convenient bench-mark for stating something is gluten free.
So if beer tests negative from the usual ELISA test that’s okay isn’t it?
Sadly, its not quite that straight-forward. Coeliacs don’t react to the whole gluten protein as one entity, their autoimmune response is being triggered by small parts of the gluten protein’s DNA. All that yeast and enzyme munching doesn’t necessarily munch the bits that you react to – you may be reacting to the gluten DNA fragments they leave behind in the beer!
In this study by Chicago University they took blood serum from coeliacs and non-coeliacs and looked for antibody reactions against three beers:-
- traditional barley based beer
- naturally gluten free beer (not made from gluten grains)
- gluten removed beer (known as gluten free beer in the UK).
All of the coeliacs reacted to a wheat control sample. Of those who reacted to a barley control sample, roughly half reacted to Traditional Beer and roughly a quarter of the barley reactors reacted to Gluten Removed Beer (what we call “Gluten Free”); none reacted to Naturally GF Beer!
As an aside, they make the point that although coeliac disease is understood as reacting to wheat, barley and rye, in fact it is likely to be more nuanced and person-specific. A coeliac reacts most strongly to those grains they are most exposed to so nearly all will react to wheat, many will also react to barley and some will react to rye. Some people may also be reacting to other elements from these grains that isn’t being tested.
If as a coeliac you get a bodily reaction that you recognise as being ‘glutened’ you know to avoid it. This happens with me when I drink “Gluten Free” beer (gluten removed) so I gave up drinking it because I just didn’t trust it to be truly GF whatever those tests said!
What if you don’t get an immediate reaction? Some coeliacs have no immediate symptoms whilst their autoimmune system is quietly wrecking their small intestine, robbing them of important nutrients and leaving them at high risk of developing cancer of the small intestine. They may be anaemic, have low bone density, odd liver function tests, headaches etc but nothing specific that highlights they are in any danger from beer that appears to be approved as gluten-free?
Coeliacs are all different. Some will be fine on Gluten Removed Beer, some won’t. If you don’t know for sure then why take the risk?
Avoiding beer unless it is Naturally Gluten Free Beer would seem sensible for coeliacs until testing of beer and person gets better than it is today!
“The Celiac Patient Antibody Response to Conventional and Gluten-Removed Beer” study conducted by Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG) at the University of Chicago’s Celiac Research Center.
Note: GIG, founded in 1974, created the USA’s Gluten-Free Certification Organisation in 2005; similar in concept to the Coeliac Organisation in the UK.
Video explanation (as embedded above): https://www.gluten.org/resources/gluten-free-vs-gluten-removed-beer-study/
Published paper by AOIC International:
Naturally Gluten Free Beers
As I type, Greens Beers brewed in Belgium are the best known brewers of Naturally Gluten Free beers. Look for these products: Amber, Dry Hopped Lager, IPA, Dubbel and Tripel. They are made from other ancient grains – sorghum, millet, buckwheat and brown rice husks.
Like other brewers, their most available products are frustratingly gluten removed beers treated with the enzyme as described above. but some of their bottled products are free of wheat, barley and rye.
Visit their site at https://www.glutenfreebeers.co.uk and look for these products:-
Amber, Dry Hopped Lager, IPA, Dubbel and Tripel.
Autumn Brewing Co.
Based in North East England, they produce a Pilsner, A Pale Ale and a Stout known as Alt Brew Nos 1, 2 and 3 respectively.
They brew using rice, quinoa and millet.
Updated : 18 Jan 2018
Gluten, barley and wheat free beer
Alex Gazzola, editor of Allergy Insight, has a very interesting post which spotlights the beer that Coeliacs can drink without worry…