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The Connection between Coffee and Gluten Sensitivity

is coffee safe on a gluten free dietBefore you jump into a panic attack about having your coffee taken away, please read the entire article.  I am not condemning coffee, I am simply sharing with you recent research combined with 15 years of clinical experience dealing with patients who fail to respond to a traditional gluten free diet.  If you’ve been eating gluten-free and are still experiencing gluten-related symptoms, the problem may be your coffee intake.  That being said, let’s dive in…

There are several foods that cause what’s called a gluten cross-reactivity in those who are sensitive to or intolerant of gluten. This is because the proteins in these foods are perceived by the body as invaders in the same way gluten is.

Dairy is the most common cross-reactive food to those with gluten issues, because of its casein proteins. But coffee also contains problematic proteins and the cross reaction to coffee has actually been found to be one of the most severe.

Does Coffee Mimic Gluten?

In 2013, Aristo Vojdani and Igal Tarash published a study in Food and Nutritional Sciences that examined the cross-reactivity of coffee. What the researchers found was that highly-processed coffees, such as instant coffee and popular ground coffees, produced the most cross-reactivity in test subjects.

What researchers believe is that the processing itself contributes to the problem, since organic, whole-bean coffees did not produce cross-reactivity issues. While more research is needed, it’s thought that the proteins in coffee are changed in such a way during processing that the body perceives them as a threat, which causes the same inflammatory responses and symptoms as gluten in those that are sensitive or allergic to it.  We see this same type of problem with dairy.  The processing of the dairy changes the dairy protein and creates a gluten like reaction.

One of the troubling aspects about the cross-reactivity of coffee is that some of the most common symptoms, such as migraines, mental fogginess and fatigue, will actually cause people to reach for yet another cup, which leads to a frustrating and damaging cycle.  Add to this the fact that most people also add some form of dairy to their coffee, and you now have two potential ways they could be having cross reactive gluten like inflammatory damage.

Coffee and Mycotoxin Contamination

Another potential problem with coffee is the presence of mycotoxins (also found in corn).  Coffee beans are known to be high in a toxic mold compound known as ochratoxin A.  Many people tolerate this exposure just fine, but some chronically ill patients (especially those with chronic gluten induced autoimmunity) can have severe reactions to these mycotoxin compounds.  Roasting and processing the coffee beans can reduce the quantity of these toxins, but the results vary based on the type of bean and the type of processing.

It can be hard for people to pinpoint the problem, because coffee is a gluten-free food.  People suffering from symptoms are eating a TRUE gluten-free diet and examining every inch of their lives for hidden gluten in an attempt to explain why they’re still suffering from symptoms. Unfortunately in most cases, they’re coming up empty. Even many doctors fail to connect cross-reactive foods like coffee when their gluten sensitive patients come in for help.

Coffee and Pesticides

Coffee crops are one of the most heavily loaded with pesticides.  Keep in mind that some of these chemicals can cause intestinal damage, leaky gut, and disrupt hormones (especially estrogen).  Think about this before you pick up your next cup on non organic coffee – 1 cup per day is equivalent to 20 pounds of pesticide exposure per year.

Coffee and Caffeine

The caffeine content is coffee ranges from 100-200 mg per 6 oz serving.  This changes based on the method of preparation, i.e. espresso has greater caffeine content than does a standard cup of brewed coffee.  What is important to understand here is that caffeine is a common gastric irritant.  It can contribute to mucosal degradation in the stomach and esophagus, and many who have gluten induced GI damage also have problems with regular coffee consumption.  Caffeine can also overstimulate the adrenal glands.  This over stimulation can be very detrimental for someone already suffering with adrenal burnout or adrenal insufficiency.  In this scenario, coffee isn’t the cause of the disease process, but the caffeine in it can allow the symptoms to persist and inhibit the recovery process.  Some people have to remove the caffeine for several months while their body’s are recovering.

How to Know if Coffee is a Problem and What to Do About It

If you know your diet is gluten-free and you’ve eliminated any hidden gluten such as vitamins whose coatings contain gluten, try going without coffee for a full week. Yes, this can be hard to do if you’re dependent on caffeine to get you through your day, but you can still have your caffeine, but for this trial week, you’ll need to get it from black or green tea. Try subbing hot tea in the morning and iced tea in the afternoons if you usually have an afternoon coffee.

Once the antigen load in your body has been significantly reduced (after a week without coffee), try having just one cup in the morning, but make it an organic, whole-bean coffee. If your symptoms diminished or went away entirely after a few days without coffee and your one cup of whole-bean coffee doesn’t produce any symptoms, then it’s safe to say that you can go back to your normal coffee intake, but stay away from instant and ground coffees. Using organic, whole-bean is definitely the better choice.

The upside of this is that freshly-ground coffee is usually superior in taste and aroma, and there are plenty of interesting and exotic organic beans for you to discover. So, you can eliminate your symptoms and still enjoy a great cup of coffee.

Do you have bad experiences with coffee?  Don’t be a stranger and chime in below in the comments section.  Your experience may help someone else improve their health.

Wishing you excellent health,

Dr. Osborne – The Gluten Free Warrior

Gluten Free Warrior Commentary

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28 responses on “Is Coffee Safe on a Gluten Free Diet?

  1. I am gluten, dairy and coffee sensitive. After giving up these three I do not have any issues. I replaced my coffee habit with a Chai Tea habit. I never thought I could give up coffee but to feel better, well worth it.

  2. I looked and was surprised there was NO revies or comment so I tried to adds one, but it wouldnt take it, Dr O is a genius and a mentor

  3. Dana says:

    My whole life is completely gluten free down to even my bath products – it has to be to keep me healthy and feeling good. But something will randomly trigger my gluten migraines and other symptoms. I could not figure it out and I thought I was going crazy or just being paranoid about being glutened when I kept coming back to coffee as the trigger. But after reading this article and a few others, all with the same information and advice, it all makes sense! Now I know what I need to do. And I know I was not going crazy. LOL

  4. Caryl Rohlfing says:

    Thank you Dr. Osborne. My daughter gave up coffee, and she is doing so much better. I’m going to try giving it up as well. I’m now on a Paleo Diet, but I have trouble if I eat any grains that are gluten free. I get bad stomach pains. The caffeine in coffee could be the culprit, as well.

  5. Carelyn says:

    I have recently gone back to eliminating all grains, dairy, and caffeine because that is how I had the most improvement and felt the best in the past. I have tried organic whole-bean coffee and also caffeine capsules (without the capsules, just the powder), and it seems to definitely cause problems for me, both emotional and physical. I initially did all these changes because of an article by Dr. Mercola several years ago that five non-gluten foods actually act like gluten in the body: dairy, corn, chocolate, coffee, and soy. I had great results and then bad times when I went off this diet several times. I really think this is worth a try if someone is just not getting great relief from eliminating gluten things alone. The challenge is to remember how bad you felt because these all seem to provoke an addictive process, which can make it difficult to given them up, and then to stay away from them. I do wonder if the mycotoxin issue is the real culprit with even organic coffee, but I’ve had the same problem with the caffeine capsules.

    • Carelyn,
      Regarding chocolate, have you tried raw chocolate not processed on machines which process dairy? I have found that even 90% chocolate bar which does not specifically state DF, GF will trigger me even if there is no dairy on the ingredient list. On the other hand I buy 100% raw chocolate and make little cocoa balls with coconut oil, a 100% juice, maple syrup or other sweetener and have no problems at all.

    • Jan Neal says:

      Thank you Carelyn for that information from Dr. Mercola. I have had problems with some coffees but not others, and noted the organic coffees are better. However, I had a chocolate bar yesterday (74%) and really noticed the same symptoms as the coffee with frequent trips “down the hall”. Also used a corn oil based marinade with stomach upset. I really appreciate all the blogging here to educate me. Eliminating gluten from my diet has cleared up a lifelong history of sinus issues(have had SIX sinus surgeries over last 35 years)….now it appears I need to take this to the next level.

      I’m reading about the fact that all grains have gluten not just barley wheat and rye and that one may be reactive to many of those. Any information would be appreciated.

  6. Thank you so much, Dr. Osborne! My entire family, including my husband and grandchildren, are double-gene gluten intolerant. We learned this, BEFORE I knew of you and your website, through Entero-lab cheek swab and stool test results. A most important point we learned in our family with the myriad illnesses we WERE experiencing (including a son-in-law who is now FREE from stage two lymphoma) is that every body is different. Therefore, every autoimmune reaction differs. We are grateful that we discovered our gluten-intolerance in time before any of us advanced to diseases, such as diabetes, MS, RA, Parkinsons, additional Cancers, etc. Your invaluable and up-to-date information to which we adhere has been a primary factor in our healing. Know that I have researched your information comparatively with recent studies from Spain and Italy. So, I know for a fact that your information is accurate. Because we strive to be gluten-free in every way, we ask that you please continue with this passion of yours because we depend upon your information. Thanks again! Patrice Belleci-Shipe

    • Fiona Totoro says:

      I’ve just started my research journey into gluten sensitivity. I suspect I have inherited genes for it from my mother & father’s side. My mother’s grandfather had serious IBS. My grandmother died of non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. My grandfather developed Parkinson’s – apparently it has run in his family. My father developed early onset Parkinson’s that has seriously affected his life & health. My Aunt (my father’s sister) has non- Hodgkin’s lymphoma. My son has mild autism & my daughtef has food allergies & had eczema & asthma. I have always had a range of vague health issues and I think gluten is probably the answer I’ve been looking for. I feel alone though as no one else is interested in seeking an answer they just want to carry on dealing with symptoms individually one by one and generally put anything down to ‘bad luck’. Its hard dealing with the health issues, and trying to understand & fix them by myself. At least my husband is supportive. This site has been really invaluable in this journey. I also hope I am not too late to avoid more serious disease for myself & my children.

  7. Kristen says:

    Yes, I discovered I had a huge problem with coffee after being diagnosed celiac. Just a few sips of my husband’s coffee gave me effects similar to gluten poisoning within a half hour. Never did that again, because I suffered for weeks afterwards. I also cross-react to dairy and large amounts of soy (small amounts seem ok).

  8. Linda Farland says:

    I am new to this gluten free diet. I am so thankful to find this site. I have so many questions and little answers about gluten. I never had stomach problems up until about four months ago after having radiation treatments for breast cancer. Would love to find some gluten free recipes that my grandchildren my want to eat. That would be great. Thank-you

    • GFWSally says:

      Thanks Linda! Dr. Osborne is passionate about educating and helping people heal through a true gluten free diet. glutenfreesociety.org has years of his work available for that purpose and there will be a full recipe plan in place in the near future. Stay posted and sign up for his newsletters if you haven’t already. Be well!

  9. sky says:

    I have been very sick for over 30 years and after reading this I will give up coffee too not just because of the gluten content but also because of the mycotoxins and mold. I am also intolerant to any oils – canola, palm soy, cottonseed, and olive. I get very sick from salicylates and all fruits and all vegetables and dairy and eggs and chicken and meat. I can’t have any fodmaps. I’m intensely allergic to rice and I can’t eat potatoes because of the mold spores. There is nothing left for me to eat. Can anyone please help me I am wasting away. I used to be normal and never had to think twice about anything I ate.

    • GFWSally says:

      Sky,
      Please consider a clean protein powder such as Dr. Osborne’s Ultra Protein or Ultra Pure Protein. Intermittent small meals of healthy shakesare very often a boost nutritionally and with regards to weight. Combining healthy ingredients to make new recipes keeps it interesting!

  10. Conni says:

    I am gluten-sensitive, and gut inflammation led to the beginnings of thyroid disease–it wasn’t even being detected through labs yet, but it was there. Reverse T3 was the indicator of gut inflammation, even though I’d been gluten-free for years (but not grain-free) and even coffee-free for years. Coffee would give me the shakes, so I quit in 2003. Two years ago I learned about mycotoxins in coffee–I started slowly with Bulletproof decaf, did comparison tests between decaf, full caf, and organic coffee from my local shop. No jitters with the Bulletproof, plenty of jitters from the organic local blend. Organic is great, but it is still often contaminated with mycotoxins. Every body is different. We all have to be detectives and Dr. Osborne’s passion for providing us with cutting-edge information is a true gift. Chocolate, vanilla and even standard coconut oil for cooking is rife with mold/mycotoxins and I do better on mold-free products. Frankly, I do better on an anti-inflammatory regime of no grains, sugars, soy, egg whites, nightshades and dairy (except ghee and colostrum powder!) Thank you, Dr. Osborne, I just LOVE learning the science behind the choices we need to make. Even if all my friends are sick of hearing about it.

  11. Kimberly says:

    Thanks for this article. Recently determined my own gluten sensitivity and have (mostly) eliminated all gluten items and feel a lot better but something still isn’t right. So, I will start a week coffee free tomorrow and see if that helps! Thanks again for this info!

  12. M says:

    Thanks guys for all the info! I lost 70% of gut lining so now have problems with: Gluten/Dairy/Nightshades/Egg Whites/Yeast/too much Sugar – I also have High Histamine, which is fun!!! I personally have tried most things in the Diet like everyone, but went down the Immune Strengthener route. I now grow Kefir, which is 30x stronger than normal Yoghurts. I could only have 1/2 tsp. to start, now I have 8xtbsps in Goats Milk. This has helped a lot for me, although I still get a few problems from other things. I would recommend attempting to strengthen the Immune System. Look up Kefir and things like the Nutribulet info and see if it would help you.

    M xxx

  13. Jo-De says:

    Your interview with Mark Sisson led me to your book, which I am reading now.
    The information above is what I believe I’ve been searching for! I’m in my 60s and have known since I was in high school that my body stays leaner, has less bloating, with no mental fog when I don’t eat refined carbs – especially wheat and corn and sugar. Now, being older and having little cartilage left in my knees exacerbates my problem. When I eat refined carbs, my joints (not just the knees) get very stiff and sore. I notice when I stay away, my body feels half my age! In the past few years, I have noticed I get the same effect when drinking coffee. I thought that it might be because coffee is dehydrating me and my joints are being affected from that. However, my gut tells me there is another component and perhaps this is it – the cross-reactivity. I have now been off of coffee for three weeks and feel pretty good (and even better when I am not munching on leftover Easter candy)… I will try some organic tomorrow – without dairy – and see what happens. Thanks for sharing this interesting and relevant data.

  14. Rache says:

    I’ve been gluten free for about a month. In the last 2 weeks, I’ve not been able to nap. Im jolting, twitching and jerking – shoulders, legs, feet, fingers. I drink one half – caf in the morning. I’m wondering if that’s it! Any ever heard of that? Wondering if my absorption is different now?

  15. KC says:

    I kept getting gluten reactions every time I eat corn or regular cooked rice found out they also mimic the gluten protein. Not everyone reacts to them but of course I do. I can eat rice flour just not whole rice. Found out I was celiac a year ago rough at first but you get use to it only occasionally I look at something with gluten and woul d like to eat it

  16. Paul M says:

    I found that the milk I was using in my coffee was causing discomfort. I drank a lot of coffee everyday and finally noticed that I was using less milk per cup as the day went on and had been for years. I just never paid attention to it. I switched to Lactaid Milk for coffee and Lactose free ice cream and butter for cooking and no other lactose (including M&M’s).
    Our family physician suggested it for me when I was ten in 1960 for hyperactivity. Now coffee only bothers me if I forget to eat (anorexia)and just drink coffee and smoke cigarettes instead of eating. Going wheat free is the best thing I have ever done.

  17. Ann says:

    Yep…that explains it..on the weekends I have a gluten free breakfast…with coffee…and bam! the gluten attack feeling…I could never figure it out…why only on the weekend….I thought it was eggs, the cheese…and then I researched and found out about the coffee! I bought organic coffee and there was no difference…it gives me a huge gluten headache and causes intense fatigue…totally ruins my weekend…I may try grinding my own beans or just drinking tea….

  18. Comokiwi says:

    Regarding chocolate – stay away from all chocolate containing soy lecithin. I have found a wonderful Italian chocolate called la Perugia which uses sunflower lecithin instead of soy lecithin – I haven’t had any reaction to this chocolate.

  19. Joyce Alliss says:

    Just found this very informative website as I suspect gluten is the culprit in my own life! Feel so ill sometimes everything from severe stomach upsets to almost fainting! Family suspect hypochondria!!! Am now much better informed and instigating immediate dietary change… Thankyou..

  20. Dana says:

    I think I have a intolerance to gluten. I have changed my diet and have noticed the stomach pain has gone away. I am still struggling with body aches and fatigue nearly everyday. I eat alot of fruit, and drink 3 to 4 cups of coffee with creamer each day. Could this be my problem? I need some direction.

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Disclaimer: The entire contents of this website are based upon the opinions of Dr. Peter Osborne, unless otherwise noted. Individual articles are based upon the opinions of the respective author, who retains copyright as marked. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr. Osborne and his community. Dr. Osborne encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional.

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