Ask the Beer Fox – Is Standard Lager Beer Safe for Coeliacs?
What about Light Beer
By: Carolyn Smagalski

Question: I have had Coeliac (Celiac) Disease since 1996, and didn’t drink beer for years. I like being a part of the community and miss having a beer with my friends. I have often felt like a social outcast because of the restricted GF diet. It is a constant struggle to avoid this small pleasure, and I keep looking for information that gives the okay to drink the beer that I enjoy.

Some of the major commercial beer companies have published articles on the Internet indicating that there are only small amounts of gluten in standard lager and light beers, and that this gluten is turned into amino acids in the brewing process. They imply that beer may be safe for Coeliacs because the tests conducted to detect gluten in beer, in accordance with National Food Standards in some countries, do not reveal significant amounts of gluten in the finished product.

They further indicate that gluten in small amounts is okay for some Coeliacs, but recommend asking your doctor, General Practitioner or the CSA (Celiac Sprue Association). In fact, I called one of these companies, and this is a direct quote from our conversation:

“Our beer is gluten free. Its primary ingredient is rice and the barley that is used in brewing is turned into amino acids during the brewing process and our scientists have been unable to detect any gluten. We suggest you contact your doctor or the CSA (Celiac Sprue Association).” My doctor doesn’t see a problem but the CSA says all beer has gluten in it.

Are the Gluten-Free brewing companies just trying to brainwash Coeliacs into believing they need to buy their high-priced GF beer?

All I want are the honest, unbiased facts. Can you help?

Beer Fox Answer:

Coeliac (Celiac) Disease, also known as Gluten Intolerance, Celiac Sprue, Nontropical Sprue or Gluten Sensitive Enteropathy, is an autoimmune disorder characterized by an intolerance to the elastic proteins found in barley, wheat, oats, rye, spelt, kamut and triticale. The person suffering from this condition can experience abdominal pain, bloating, chronic diarrhea, unexplained anemia, infertility, and bone or joint pain in the early stages of the disease, followed by osteoporosis, dental enamel defect, skin rashes, depression, and eventual malnutrition with continued exposure to gluten-rich foods.

Ingesting even small amounts of gluten causes a select group of genes, the HLA class II antigens, to exhibit an immune response to the gluten protein fractions found in gluten-rich foods and beverages. This response causes damage to tiny, hairlike projections in the small intestines that absorb nutrients from foods, resulting in the malabsorption of proteins, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins, fats and, in some cases, water and bile salts.

Diagnosis within the global community is on the rise. Current statistics indicate that 1% of children in the United Kingdom are diagnosed with Coeliac (Celiac) Disease by age seven. Estimates hold that this condition affects 1 in 133 people in the United States, with strong evidence that CD is equally common in many countries throughout Europe. Despite intensive research being conducted within the scientific community, the causes of Coeliac Disease are not yet clearly understood. This makes Coeliac Disease a hot topic in the global market, especially within the food and beverage industry.

It is important to remember that large commercial brewing companies have the capability to employ the best chemists in the market, but these chemists are not pathologists. Despite their knowledge of the periodic table and the chemical changes that occur in the brewing process, the interpretation of gluten tests by commercial breweries does not qualify them to speak for the Coeliac community or about the pathology of Gluten Intolerance.

Gluten proteins are found in all grains; however, those found in corn, rice and sorghum do not trigger an autoimmune response in Coeliacs. These non-toxic grains should not be included within the definition of foods that ignite gluten-intolerant responses in the Coeliac; however, clarification for defining “gluten-free” is still in the early stage of development, pending concrete analysis of the research and pathology involved.

The gluten proteins found in barley, wheat, oats, rye, spelt, kamut and triticale are within the same family, but differ in composition. Lab tests that detect one specific type of gluten protein - gliadin in wheat beer, for example - do not detect other types, such as hordein, a gluten protein found in barley-based beer. The lack of an accurate test does not mean that the beer is free of gluten. Inaccurate interpretation of such tests can have devastating effects on the Coeliac who moves ahead to drink beer that he/she believes is safe.

Further research indicates that there is no proof that the conversion of grain proteins into amino acids during the brewing process renders them harmless to the Coeliac. Despite the boiling process, the proteins that affect the Coeliac may retain the code by readily refolding into an active conformation that instructs the body to destroy or atrophy the villi of the small intestines.

Additionally, many yeasts used in brewing contain gluten due to the base upon which they are grown. Dry yeasts grown on beet sugar or cane sugar are a safer choice for the Coeliac.

Many Coeliacs want to rationalize that they can continue to be exposed to “normal beverages” when they receive statements (such as you have) from the manufacturers of commercially brewed products. The problem is that, while the statements made by these companies might be technically true, it does not address the underlying connection between grain products and Coeliac Disease.

One additional note: Grains generate a high level of airborne dust. Even small amounts of barley that are introduced into commercial lagers may generate airborne cells that can settle back into the processed beer.

To assure the most effective treatment of Coeliac disease, the CSA recommends zero tolerance. Although 100% gluten-free craft beer may be higher priced than commercial beers such as Budweiser, Fosters, Miller, and Molson Coors, the long-term results will be well worth the price.


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