‘Gluten-removed’ beer not as safe as ‘gluten-free’ beer for those with celiac disease, study suggests

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

A percentage of study participants with celiac disease reacted strongly to a sample of gluten-removed beer. ©iStock/grekoff
A percentage of study participants with celiac disease reacted strongly to a sample of gluten-removed beer. ©iStock/grekoff
Beers labeled as “gluten-removed” may not be safe for those with celiac disease (CD) to consume, a study by the Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG) has found. 

Unlike gluten-free beer, which is made using grains that naturally do not contain gluten, such as sorghum or brown rice, gluten-removed beer is made with wheat, barley or rye, and it then undergoes a gluten-removal process.

The removal process uses enzymes to break down gluten into smaller fragments that theoretically should not induce an immune response in the person who drinks it. 

The FDA does not allow gluten-removed to be labeled as “gluten-free”​ because it contains barley. 

Study methods and results

Researchers set out to examine whether serum antibody binding of residual peptides – such as those left behind in the gluten removal process – in fermented barley-based products is greater among those with CD than a normal control non-celiac control group. The study was conducted by GIG at the University of Chicago’s Celiac Research Center and gathered blood samples from 31 individuals with CD and 29 individuals without CD (serving as control subjects) to be tested with three barley-based samples (barley extract, traditional beer, and gluten-removed beer).

“The goal of this study was to examine the use of sera from active-CD patients as a detection tool for residual celiacreactive proteins in gluten-removed beer,”​ the study said.

According to researchers, none of the 29 nonceliac control subjects reacted to the three barley-based samples. The blood samples from individuals with active CD did not react to gluten-free beer, but a percentage of active-CD subjects did react to gluten-removed beer.

The strong reaction from active-CD patients to samples of gluten-removed beer compared to no reaction from the control subjects “suggests that there are residual peptides”​ that can elicit an allergic reaction from those with CD.

The study acknowledged that further analysis of these reactions to gluten-removed beer was needed to determine potential toxicity and any pathogenic significance.

Certification of gluten-removed products questionable

“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,”​ said Cynthia Kupper, CEO of GIG.

“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.”


Source: Journal of AOAC International

Published online ahead of print: doi: 10.5740/jaoacint.16-0184

“The Celiac Patient Antibody Response to Conventional and Gluten-Removed Beer”

Authors: Laura K. Allred, Katherine Lesko, Diane McKeirnan, Cynthia Kupper, Stefano Guandalini

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Protect All With Celiac Disease

Posted by Sarah,

Anyone who wants to drink gluten reduced beer and/or does not think they react is welcome to. The problem is for those of us who react violently but currently are not being allowed access to true gluten free beer. Also, a sample size that small won't give you a true representation of the percent of the population who will get sick. This is about public health policy… Things labeled gluten-free need to be safe for ALL with celiacs disease. And restaurants and bars need to be given the full information rather than lied to by distributors.

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Small Study and Small Effect

Posted by Chris,

Looking at the study, only 2 out of 31 CD serum samples reacted to the enzymatically reduced beer. The whole study is not available to the public yet, so it's hard to say but that seems like a small percentage. It certainly warrants further investigation, but the headline is more like WARNING don't drink this beer if you have CD. But could be more like - 90% of CD patients may be able to drink this beer!. Everyone is different and needs to work with their physician and not just based their diet on single studies and headlines.

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