Thoughts on Gluten Cross Reactive Foods

After coming across many blogs talking about “19 gluten cross reactive foods” I was first concerned and worried, then overwhelmed by the sheer number of foods that may be problematic.

Then I found another busting the “myth” (Christina Graves), doing a better job of it than I ever could, and clearing up the confusion. This also prompted me to finally read at least the abstract and conclusion of the original study (Aristo Vojdani, Igal Tarash Cross-Reaction between Gliadin and Different Food and Tissue Antigens, Food and Nutrition Sciences, Vol.4 No.1, January 2013). The 19 foods were the initial suspects, so to speak, but among them only milk, corn, rice, and also millet and yeast (but these possibly due to cross contamination) were found to possibly cause issues. Also the study was done for cross reactivity with α-gliadin, relevant for celiac disease.

Had I gone to the source from the beginning, I would have known that this probably doesn’t apply to me to begin with. As far as I know I am not celiac. I am most likely reacting to ω-gliadin (based on the fact that my symptoms are exacerbated by exercise), another component of gluten. And those are not the only two parts that make up the structure of gluten! NCGS (non-celiac gluten sensitivity) might involve other parts.

Along with gluten, I too have problems with milk (confirmed allergy) and fresh yeast. Does it mean anything that it partially matches the study’s results?
Among the 19 suspects, I have problems with quinoa, buckwheat (confirmed allergy), and amaranth.
But are these cross reactions to gluten? More likely they are separate problems of their own or cross reactions to my other allergies.

As I too started my food journey by going gluten free, it was all too easy to think that I was either being “glutened” or was having gluten cross reactions when I continued to have symptoms. At least for me, the answer turned out to be additional allergies and sensitivities apart from gluten. This is also mentioned in the original study’s conclusion.

“If after adherence to a strict gluten-free diet and the elimination of cross-reactive foods symptoms still persist, further investigation for other food intolerances should follow.”

Yet again, cross reactivity is a complicated issue, at the molecular level. While it can  indicates increased possibility, it may or may not apply to you. Depends on how your immune system identifies the “offenders” and how accurate it is. So, individual answers may all be different.

Following such lists can be misleading, inconvenient, possibly dangerous without first testing yourself.

Regarding testing, along with formal skin tests, blood tests, or even endoscopies, carefully done elimination diets, food challenges, and possibly data tracking and molecular structure simulations might help find answers.

Buckwheat Allergy

Buckwheat is actually a highly allergenic food (potentially dangerous reactions), especially in the East Asian food culture, that I didn’t suspect.

But after allergy tests showed a positive result I looked back at my food and symptoms diary. Immediately after each time I had buckwheat, which I occasionally had since going gluten free, I had noted scratchy sore throat. I’m also highly suspicious it caused GI issues but 1) all these symptoms were on the milder side and 2) I had been eating other problem foods.

Again a case that shows our subjective expectations can cause blindspots. Also, testing and tracking used together are a pretty powerful combination that can help confirm suspicions.

Other similar pseudo grains (seeds) such as quinoa, and amaranth are suspected of causing diarrhea as well. Are they cross reactive to buckwheat?

Sneaky Soy

(Phase 6)

It was frustrating at times to constantly suspect yet another ingredient, sometimes even obscure additives in processed foods. Many things were eliminated at one point or another, usually something newly added or relatively infrequently eaten. But symptoms still continued. In hindsight, in such a case it is more likely due to something you eat fairly frequently yet never suspected for one reason or another. 

The main one was soy. The reason it was not suspected was that a larger amount was needed to cause reactions and the immediate reaction, headache, was relatively subtle (although it sometimes got worse over the next day or so) and tended only to happen with less processed forms of soy such as edamame and soy milk. Other more processed forms of soy like tofu caused headache the next day. Diarrhea was more severe and problematic but it also was usually delayed by a day causing us to suspect many other foods eaten right before the incidents.

Later I learned that soy generally tends to have a much higher sensitivity threshold than other allergens, like 100 times higher. So even if you have soy allergy you are unlikely to react to soybean oil, soy lecithin, even soy sauce.

Perhaps my reaction to soy is not an allergy in itself but rather some kind of cross reactivity to my other allergies. My symptoms are a less severe hybrid of that from nuts/ grains (headache) and milk (diarrhea), and the latter is much delayed.

Tree Nut Allergies

I only became aware of my issue with tree nuts after eliminating wheat and milk from my diet. So I do not know when I started to have these allergies. They are considered a more common adult allergy but for what it’s worth I did find chestnut to be addictive since childhood. And based on symptoms, chestnut and possibly pecan were the only ones I thought might actually be a true IgE allergy. I tested positive to pecan but chestnut was not available for testing.

Reaction patterns and sensitivity and severity are all over the map depending on which nut and in what form it is consumed.

Compared to whole nuts, nut milks have much less solids. Most commercial almond milk contains very little protein. It seems my sensitivity level is such that for some nuts I tolerate a small amount of nut milk. Also in my case raw nuts cause a more instant reaction than the same nut roasted.

With roasted chestnut there was no immediate reaction but migraine after exercise, all over itchiness, and later acne. But a small bite of raw chestnut caused immediate abdominal pain and itchiness all over.

With pecan, I only had a small taste of pecan milk, which was enough to cause an instant headache. The swiftness of this was alarming. So I’ve never tried more than this amount. And this was repeated a few days later with just a lick of pecan milk.

Hazelnut milk caused a pretty immediate sore bloated pressure feeling in the stomach but no other obvious symptom. But when I ate the solids left over from making the nut milk (one bite of a cookie made with the remaining hazelnut meal) I had another shock, vomiting, and diarrhea episode.

After severe reaction to hazelnut, milder suspicious issues with almond, macadamia nut and pistachio, I decided perhaps it was not worth the risk to test every tree nut out there. So for the time being I am avoiding all tree nuts except coconut (but is this technically a tree nut? Some classify it as a fruit).

In general tree nut cross reactivity patterns tend to cluster into two related groups: (pecan, walnut) and (almond, cashew, pistachio) with hazelnut potentially appearing in either group.

My tree nut symptoms also cluster into two groups.

Wheat-like reactions (headache, itchiness): pecan, chestnut, macadamia nut?, (walnut? haven’t tried due to its close relation to pecan)

Milk-like reactions (FPIES/ diarrhea): hazelnut, almond, cashew

Highly suspicious of juniper berries (unlike the name, this is similar to pine nut found sometimes in carnitas, other foods?) also causing gastrointestinal trouble (mild milk-like reaction).