Most people are able to consume and digest gluten, a protein found in grains, without any problem. Others, who are gluten intolerant, can suffer a host of symptoms. Gluten intolerance causes symptoms ranging from gastrointestinal disturbances to skin rashes. Gluten intolerance can pose a problem for beer lovers, as beers are traditionally made from grains that contain gluten.
Gluten intolerance is sometimes called gluten-sensitive enteropathy, celiac disease or celiac sprue. It may affect as many as one in every 133 U.S. citizens, according to the University of Montana. It is incurable, but manageable by avoiding all sources of dietary gluten. Gluten is found in rye, wheat, barley and in all ingredients or additives derived from them.
Beer is made from malted grains of rye, wheat or barley, the same grains responsible for triggering reactions in the gluten intolerant. Beer made from barley contains a glutinous protein called hordein, according to Scott Adams, publisher of the “Journal of Gluten Sensitivity.” Wheat gluten is called gliadin, and rye gluten is secalin. Some manufacturers of barley-based beers claim their manufacturing processes remove the gluten from barley. Adams points out that there is no known lab test that detects the presence of hordein, so there’s no way of assessing whether the manufacturers' claims are correct.
Brewers are feverishly working to sate the thirst of beer-loving celiac disease patients by creating gluten-free alternatives. According to the Columbia News Service, more than 10 different American craft breweries were offering gluten-free brands in 2009, and that number is expected to keep growing. Some American gluten-free beers are made using an African grass called sorghum. The Japanese have a brand of beer brewed mainly from rice. A British company makes a beer using a mix of gluten-free sorghum, buckwheat, millet and brown rice.
Consult your doctor if you think you have gluten intolerance. Consuming even small amounts of gluten can be harmful for those with celiac disease, and it’s important to eliminate gluten from your diet entirely if you wish to avoid intestinal damage. In addition to beer, many products you may not suspect also contain gluten. A registered dietician can help devise a gluten-free diet that meets your nutritional needs.