For beer lovers with celiac disease and gluten intolerance, there is great appeal in a new crop of "low-gluten" brews. But these specialty beers may still contain symptom-inducing levels of gluten, according to a new study.
When Australian researchers tested 60 commercial beers, they found predictably high levels of hordein — the kind of gluten contained in barley — in ordinary beer made from that grain. And eight beers labeled "gluten-free" were, in fact, devoid of gluten.
But "low-gluten" turned out to be a more ambiguous label. The two low-gluten beers tested in the study had levels of hordeins in them that were comparable to regular beers.
Beer is normally brewed from barley or wheat, which both contain gluten. To make gluten-free beers, brewers turn to malted sorghum, millet or buckwheat. But the flavor and price of these beers are often unsatisfying to customers. And still, scientists have debated whether gluten actually remains in beer after the brewing and fermenting process.
The new study, published in the Journal of Proteome Research, used a new and highly accurate test to analyze beer for four kinds of hordeins as well as avenin, a potentially reaction-inducing kind of gluten that comes from oats.
The results confirmed that most regular beers contain enough gluten to aggravate symptoms in the 2 million people who suffer from celiac disease, an autoimmune condition in which the small intestine becomes unable to absorb nutrients in food if even a small amount of gluten is consumed.
The study should also provide comfort that gluten-free beers are safe for celiac patients. If a beer is labeled "low-gluten," though, and you have a gluten sensitivity, you may want to drink with caution.