Inulin – Prebiotic Fiber with Powerful Allergic Reactions

Health Food products are containing Stealth Fiber that is labeled as a “Natural Fiber”, “Natural Sweetener”, and/or a “Natural Prebiotic”. This “Stealth fiber” is being increasingly added to processed foods, while not a problem for most; it can cause gastrointestinal discomfort for some who may not know they’re consuming too much of it. The fiber is called “Inulin.” Food companies hit the trifecta with inulin. They can market inulin in three different ways but only one ingredient.

Inulin is commonly found in:[i]

  • Wheat
  • Onions
  • Asparagus
  • Bananas
  • Plantains
  • Garlic
  • Artichokes
  • Leeks.

Do you have problems when eating these common foods? If you do you may have an Inulin Sensitivity.

The average daily dietary consumption of inulin-type fructans has been estimated to be between 3 and 11 grams for Europeans[ii] and between 1 and 4 grams in the United States.[iii]

Food manufacturers, faced with demands to reduce calories. sugar, fat, and sodium while increasing fiber and flavor, are increasingly turning to products like inulin. They have discovered they can chemically manipulate the chemical structure of inulin to mimic tastes and textures consumers want in food. Their use is likely to continue to grow and “there is the potential for overuse.”

All ingredients present in whole foods work harmoniously with each other. The opposite occurs when refining a single ingredient out of an herb and calling it “medicine” often results in a deadly poison, so too does refining a single ingredient out of whole food often turns that ingredient into a toxic substance. Do not be seduced by those only looking at the so-called benefits of Inulin. It has a very real dark side.

Inulin can be found in high fiber breakfast bars, yogurt, ice creams, and beverages among other processed foods. The label may list inulin, chicory root extract, oligosaccharide, or oligofructose. For example, the Fiber One Chewy Bar with 9 grams of dietary fiber lists chicory root extract as its top ingredient.

Inulin caused wheal and flair.

Because of its expanding use in processed foods, allergic reactions to this dietary ingredient may occur more frequently than currently recognized.[iv] The identification of an association with allergic reactions to natural foods labeled as containing a “Natural Fiber”, “Natural Sweetener”, “Natural Prebiotic” with inulin being this ingredient should be considered with reoccurring health problems.

Inulin is increasingly used in processed foods because it has unusually adaptable characteristics. Its flavor ranges from bland to subtly sweet. It is being used to replace sugar, fat, and flour. Due to the body’s limited ability to process fructans, inulin has minimal increasing impact on blood sugar. It is used in Diabetic friendly food with claims that inulin is helpful in managing blood sugar-related illnesses. This is advantageous because inulin contains 25-35% of the food energy of carbohydrates (starch, sugar) and is touted as being “high fiber”, “naturally sweet”, and “low glycemic”.

Because products are being labels as containing “All Natural Fiber, All Natural Sweetener or an All Natural Prebiotic” people are consuming high quantities of Inulin. In addition to ingesting inulin in the form of a whole food; by eating chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes or other foods naturally high in this substance such as bananas, plantains, onions, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, leeks, and garlic.

In terms of nutrition, it is considered a form of soluble fiber and is sometimes categorized as a prebiotic. Conversely, it is also considered a FODMAP, a class of carbohydrates, which are problematic for some individuals through causing overgrowth of intestinal methanogenic bacteria.

Symptoms Associated with Inulin Consumption

The consumption of inulin (in particular, by sensitive or unaccustomed individuals) can lead to gas, flatulence, bloating, abdominal pain, excess gastrointestinal rumbling, and diarrhea and products that contain inulin will sometimes include a warning to add it gradually to one’s diet. Generalized wheal-and-flare reaction, laryngeal edema, nasal itching, cough, and breathing difficulties. Severe Th2 responses (anaphylactic-like) can occur after eating types of health foods containing inulin.[v]

For this reason, a food is considered unacceptable if it causes one of the following symptoms:

  • Generalized wheal-and-flare reaction
  • Laryngeal edema
  • Nasal itching
  • Cough
  • Breathing difficulties.
  • Too much flatulence
  • Too much intestinal pressure
  • Too much pain
  • Too much intestinal noise
  • Too many intestinal cramps or diarrhea, as observed and evaluated by the person themselves.

Wheal and flair cause by Inulin.

At high doses, increased flatulence and osmotic pressure can cause intestinal discomfort. These doses vary widely from person to person and also depend on the type of food in which inulin or oligofructose is incorporated.[vi] With regard to labeling, both inulin and oligofructose are gradually being accepted as “dietary fibers” in most countries around the world. The mention of their “bifidogenic effect” on food labels has also been legally accepted in several countries.

These symptoms are difficult to measure objectively. Moreover, the same amount of flatulence can be acceptable to one person while being too much for another person, i.e. Women won’t admit to it. Guys think it’s a badge of honor.

Based on inulin’s ability to cause digestive distress in some, I would recommend avoiding inulin (in its food sources and as an ingredient) if you suffer from gastrointestinal issues — celiac disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), candida (no sugar), SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth).

It has been speculated that people fall into one of three categories regarding sensitivity to inulin:

1) Nonsensitive persons can consume 30 g/d (grams per day) or more of the compound with little or no symptoms as described;

2) Sensitive persons can consume 10 g/d of the compound without discomfort but might experience undesirable reactions with doses of 20 g/d;

3) Very sensitive persons can experience symptoms of intolerance at doses as small as of 10 g/d.

Only the person who eats inulin containing foods can judge the intestinal acceptability of a food. Diarrhea is certainly a symptom of nonacceptability, but soft stools may be an acceptable or even desired phenomenon.[vii]

Lactose Intolerance

Enzymes in the small intestine break down lactose. In cases of true lactose maldigestion, lactose passes to the large intestine without breaking down and is fermented there by the bacterial flora. In lactose-intolerant subjects this causes gastrointestinal symptoms such as flatulence, bloating, abdominal pain, excess gastrointestinal rumbling, and diarrhea. Many lactose-intolerant subjects claim that they cannot tolerate any lactose at all in everyday life.[viii]

Symptoms of inulin intolerance usually include flatulence, bloating, cramps, abdominal pain, diarrhea and rarely, constipation. Although inulin is increasingly used as a food ingredient because of its potential health benefits,[ix] i.e. dietary fiber, prebiotic, natural sweetener, & diabetic-friendly. A double-blind placebo- controlled food challenge has shown an increase of sensitivity with inulin.[x]

The increased use of inulin, as a food ingredient has led to a greater incidence of hypersensitivity but any gastrointestinal distress would be attributed to being lactose intolerant because of the increased addition of inulin into dairy products.

[i] van Loo J, Coussement P, de Leenheer L,Hoebregs H, Smits G. On the presence of inulin and oligofructose as natural ingredients in the western diet. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 1995;35:525-52.

[ii] van Loo J, Coussement P, de Leenheer L,Hoebregs H, Smits G. On the presence of inulin and oligofructose as natural ingredients in the western diet. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 1995;35:525-52.

[iii] Moshfegh AJ, Friday JE, Goldman JP, Ahuja JK. Presence of inulin and oligofructose in the diets of Americans. J Nutr 1999;129(7 Suppl):1407S-11S.

[iv] F. Gay-Crossier, G. Schreiber, C. Hauser. Anaphylaxis from Inulin in Vegetables and Processed Food. N Engl J Med 2000; 342:1372May 4, 2000

[v] Franck P, Moneret-Vautrin D, A, Morisset M, Kanny G, Mégret-Gabeaux M, L, Olivier J, L, Anaphylactic Reaction to Inulin: First Identification of Specific IgEs to an Inulin Protein Compound. Int Arch Allergy Immunol 2005;136:155-158

[vi] Paul A. A. Coussement. Inulin and Oligofructose: Safe Intakes and Legal Status. J. Nutr. 129: 1412S–1417S, 1999.

[vii] Briet, F., Achour, L., Flourié, B., Beaugerie, L., Pellier, P., Franchisseur, C., Bornet, F. & Rambaud, J.-C. (1995) Symptomatic response to varying levels of fructo-oligosaccharides consumed occasionally or regularly. Eur. J. Clin. Nutr.49:501-507.

[viii] U Teuri, H Vapaatalo, R Korpela. Fructooligosaccharides and lactulose cause more symptoms in lactose maldigesters and subjects with pseudohypolactasia than in control lactose digesters. Am J Clin Nutr 1999;69:973–9.

[ix] Roberfroid MB, Van Loo JA, Gibson GR: The bifidogenic nature of chicory inulin and its hydrolysis products. J Nutr 128:11-19, 1998

[x] Chandra R, Barron JL: Anaphylactic reaction to intravenous sinistrin (Inutest). Ann Clin Biochem 39:76, 2002

10 thoughts on “Inulin – Prebiotic Fiber with Powerful Allergic Reactions

  1. Good article!

    Jim M. Weber D.C., I.H.S. 4410 24th St.?? Sacramento CA, 95822 916.616.1595 (c) verizon http://www.weberchiroca.com??

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  2. Also listed as a “natural thickener ” on some products. (here in Australia anyway) I just had an awful experience with Queens Vanilla Bean Paste ….stomach cramps as painful as period cramps. Needless to say I threw the jar in the bin!

    • Hi Sharlotte,
      That is a use I was not aware of. But it doesn’t surprise me. How many people are experiencing similar symptoms that will never consider their natural product is causing them problems. Talked to a patient that was constantly having problems. She was eating black beans four days a week, which are hard lectins. But she soaked them and then cooked them. She started working with me when her immune system was already a mess. How little does it take to provoke symptoms when eating so-called “healthy” foods.
      Dr. Dave

    • The sad part is that inulin is used in so many “Natural” and “Healthy” products, so many people are having reactions and blaming it on something else or some yet to be diagnosed condition because the food they are eating is naturally healthy.
      Dr. Dave

  3. I KNOW I’m highly inulin sensitive but reactions used to be “limited” to 6-8 hours of severe [as in, drive you completely crazy from pain] cramp. Just had a reaction a couple of days ago after 4 years of being super careful, and experienced ‘choking’ sensation – anaphylaxis, in short, and it was truly scary. Inulin is being used as ‘natural sweetener’, ‘natural thickener’, ‘velvety mouthfeel’ and ‘natural fiber’ and none of this is true in most cases, since the inulin’s source has been manipulated, making it even harder for the body to handle. Frankly, going to eat out anywhere is now on my never-bother-trying list because I can’t trust anything but grill, and that I can do at home, cleaner and tastier.

      • Thank you so much for this information. I have been following a low FODMAP diet for some time knowing that I was really sensitive to all the onion family. I had also had a reaction to probiotic tablets that contained inulin. I didn’t know that inulin was in yoghurt, cereals and other so called healthy foods. I have had continued discomfort in my stomach and starting to feel as if I couldn’t eat anything without having a reaction. I’m so pleased I found your article and also shocked at how wide spread the use of inulin is.

  4. Thank you for this article David. I started taking Lorna Vanderhaeghe’s MAGsmart, a magnesium supplement. I was fine with this product for a while, then after taking it, developed a severe allergic reaction to the Inulin ingredient in this product. I thought I had food poisoning but when it happened a second time I contacted the Company and they told me that I had likely allergic reactions to this ingredient. For me the allergic reactions included severe headache, diarrhea and vomiting.

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