Coffee’s just a bean, roasted and ground and exposed to hot water to make a delicious beverage… Right?
Well, yes and no. In its purest form, coffee is indeed just a humble bean. And for celiacs, unless gluten-containing flavorings are added in its processing or it is otherwise cross-contaminated, coffee is a safe gluten-free beverage to enjoy. However, there are some healthcare professionals and celiac patients who are surprisingly skeptical about the safety of coffee for the celiac body.
So what’s the deal? Coffee is surely gluten-free. So what’s the commotion all about?
Chiropractor David Clark is getting attention for a YouTube video in which he proposes that gluten and coffee are cross-reactive. Cross-reactivity refers to when the gluten intolerant gut “reads” non-gluten proteins as belonging to gluten and therefore triggers an immune response the same way ingesting wheat would. The immune system believes that the non-gluten protein is an invader and mounts an inflammatory response involving gluten antibodies. This response in turn damages the intestinal villi and over time causes malabsorption and a host of medical problems.
A good example of legitimate cross-reactivity is the protein avenin, found in oats. As we mentioned in a previous article on gluten-free oats, a minority of celiacs will find that their body perceives avenin the way it perceives gluten and will experience worse celiac symptoms from the immune response the body launches when oats are ingested. This is why it is suggested that celiacs do a trial with small amounts of oats to make sure their bodies can tolerate them before they start incorporating oats regularly into their diet.
Although we do not think of coffee as containing protein (because it is not a source of dietary protein), a small percentage of the coffee bean does contain protein and some of those proteins make it into the liquid beverage we so enjoy (whether caffeinated or decaf). Dr. Clark believes that in many cases celiacs have cross-reactions with coffee proteins.
So Do You Have to Give Up Coffee? Not So Fast…
So maybe you’re getting a little depressed now, thinking of having to give up that latte or iced coffee. Not so fast. There is no peer-reviewed research to support Dr. Clark’s theories. This idea of cross-reactivity between coffee and gluten only became popular when a small laboratory with controversial theories about the gut and autoimmunity began offering a test for gluten-coffee cross-reactivity.
We were unable to find any peer-reviewed research suggesting that this test has any credence. In addition, there is very weak evidence for the idea of cross-reactivity in the first place. There is no real evidence yet for proteins other than avenin being misinterpreted as gluten by the body. A study showing some possibility of corn being cross-reactive with gluten was published recently, but it was only a preliminary study that suggests that hypothetically this cross-reactivity could exist, not conclusive evidence that corn is dangerous for celiacs.
If you are interested in alternative health theories such as cross-reactivity and the tests that claim to identify them, you will likely need to find a chiropractor or naturopath. The only lab doing these assays is not one a doctor is likely to send you to due to its lack of scientific credibility thus far. In the meantime, in the absence of scientific evidence, there’s no reason yet for celiac coffee drinkers to quit their “vice” of choice… unless it is irritating their stomach or causing anxiety or jitteriness, as coffee has been known to do.
Let us know: How does your body tolerate coffee?