Maltodextrin – could this mystery ingredient be the culprit? 6

Since the skin blistering episode, I have been doing a lot of reading up on how or why Zac could be having such odd reactions when we are keeping him on a gluten free and dairy free diet. The skin blistering actually turned into a hideous abscess in the end – leaving Zac with a raging infection and in screaming agony. It left me with raging rage and a strong desire to punch the doctor who turned us away the week before.

The doctor who saw and diagnosed his abscess was visibly shocked and asked if it had looked infected when I showed it to the other doctor. Clearly she would never say anything questioning his judgement but her face said it all, as she then apologetically told me she would have to squeeze his elbow hard to get out as much pus as she could. It was already oozing from two places, so she didn’t have to work too hard. I had Zac in a rugby hold and his screams took the roof off the surgery. I just hope the other doctor could hear it through the walls.

Anyway, after being prescribed much needed anti-biotics, I asked the new doctor if she thought this was related to his allergies and she said no. I also asked if she had anything on her records with regard to the hospital appointment we were still waiting for and she said no to that too.

So we went to the dispensary and got our prescription. It has been a long time since he had anti-biotics, so I thought I should ask if they were gluten and dairy free – well you never know! The pharmacist assured me and took the trouble to read out every ingredient and look up the ones we weren’t sure about.

After several days of taking the foulest tasting medicine I have ever tried, the arm started to heal and Zac was a much happier boy. But I couldn’t help but wonder, how on earth it could have happened. I wondered if Zac now had a ‘contact’ allergy. As I have said many times, Zac has never been fully allergy tested, so everything we ‘know’ is based on assumption from our food diary results. The many doctors, we have met, seem to think this is sufficient.

But I was once told, by some people from the Royal Free Allergy Clinic, who had a stand at the Allergy Show, that a child with food intolerances, asthma and eczema should be seen as he clearly has problems with inhaled, ingested and contact triggers.

I had always just assumed Zac’s skin itching was triggered by foods he had eaten – e.g. the mystery of the crazy skin itching episode minutes after a gluten free, dairy free meal at Carluccios. There was no rash, he just could not stop scratching himself and was literally clawing at his face until the skin was marked.

But this latest episode of skin discomfort had started with a spot that blistered and gave birth to other blisters and eventually became an abscess. That is why I wondered if perhaps this could have been caused by Zac resting his elbow on a table covered in ‘ordinary’ breadcrumbs – perhaps at pre-school?

Then I started wondering if perhaps he had consumed a few crumbs by accident through cross contamination in the pre-school toaster when they prepare his snack?

Since all of these things flared up I have posted a few questions on Gluten Free Guerillas page on the Health Unlocked website. Many people have come back to me saying that they have had similar episodes to the ones Zac has had and it has made me feel even more certain that he has Coeliac disease or a wheat allergy.

Gluten Free Guerillas is an online community where those living a gluten free life share their experiences, ask and answer questions and generally help each other out with advice and support. I have learned a lot from it and most recently read an article about Maltodextrin which really got me thinking.

I had thought Zac was on a totally gluten free diet until I read that maltodextrin which is a food additive, used in the production of ‘sweeties’ and other ‘confections’.

Accordinging to Wikipedia, this food additive is ‘enzymatically derived from wheat’. On the whole it is so highly processed that it can be technically classed as gluten free, but could potentially cause a problem for anyone who is highly sensitive to wheat. So could this be it? Could this be the mystery trigger? Zac doesn’t really eat many sweets, but from time to time people do give him Haribo and other such things as a ‘treat’. There are so few he can eat and people assume that they are safe because they are dairy free. Not thinking, (who would) that they could possibly have any wheat in them!

We are meeting Dr Adam Fox on 13th November and I am hoping we will come away with an action plan on at least working out what is wrong with Zac. It will be interesting to see if he has any thoughts on whether a person who needs to be gluten free, also needs to avoid foods containing maltodextrin. In the mean time, if any of you have any thoughts, please let me know.

Since I read this about maltodextrin and since Zac’s arm healed, I have banned sweeties from his diet and he hasn’t even noticed. He didn’t really like them that much anyway. I have seen some gluten free jelly teddy bears in Waitrose and we did try them. They were crazy expensive and he wasn’t mad on them, so I think we will leave them alone too. He is well at the moment and despite some scarring, his elbow is definitely on the mend. No thanks to that rubbish doctor – and perhaps the maltodextrin in Haribo!

I have always thought that food additives must be behind so many of the problems that people are experiencing with intolerance and allergies. These latest episodes have made me even more certain that there must be a link, so I am going to try and find out more. I will share whatever I discover, so watch this space.




  1. It just goes to show that the saying eat as your Grandmother did, i.e. no more than 5 ingredients in anything and certainly nothing that you can’t identify, makes a lot of sense. In today’s world though, it is almost impossible. Even if you make everything yourself you can only easily get some ingredients in processed form. For example, yeast. I was thinking I was doing a great thing making my own homemade bread with no additives and then I read the ingredients on the yeast packet to find they had a lot of additives. This means to make bread without additives I would need to find rarely available natural yeast or make my own yeast culture (which I have done in the past by the way). This is time consuming, messy and hit & miss – as you know.

    • Exactly. When you walk around a supermarket or even a coffee shop it is terrifying to think how much junk is in everything. Simple is best.
      Zac has now ‘gone off’ a lot of ‘treat’ type foods and I don’t know if that is because he can tell they make him feel unwell. His favourite treats currently are raisins, grapes and my homemade rock cakes. Yesterday he asked me to make him chocolate brownies. An unusual request, so I had a go – eggs, sugar, (df ‘butter’) good quality dark(non dairy) chocolate, (gf) flour. As you say, minimal ingredients – although even they are by no means perfect and ‘pure’.
      Interestingly, we have a pack of shop bought ‘free from’ brownies in the cupboard and the list of ingredients is very long indeed. So it is true that there is also a misconception that the ‘free from’ foods in the shops are better for you. They aren’t. They are just different! Home made is best. Even if they look a bit rubbish like mine, and are sometimes less than perfect in looks and texture, which mine mostly are. And of course the irony is that my children at least seem to prefer my messy looking offerings! Note to self – save your money Nicola!

  2. Nicola, I’m so sorry to hear about what you and your little boy has been through. It is horrid when you feel so helpless and at the mercy of medical staff, who unfortunately do not always have the answers that we would hope they might. I do hope Dr Adam Fox can help you out. I believe he is very well regarded, so here’s hoping. x

    Liz, what you said about yeast horrified me! I use Dove’s Organic yeast. It has an E number!! It’s derived from a fruit sugar, which in itself would seem safe, but to which some people will not doubt be sensitive.

    I think the mucking about with food has happened because of convenience. These days, people are removed from the production of food and it needs to be stored for longer, or (in the case of yeast) work quicker, or whatever.

    Can’t help wishing things were all a whole lot simpler!! Food used to just be something you ate when you were hungry, without worrying about what it would do to you!

    • Thanks so much for the comments. Much appreciated. It is scary. And the scariest things is that, as you have both discovered too, is that even when you try and make it yourself, it is still impossible to be totally ‘pure’. But I guess we just have to do the best we can and keep it all to a minimum.

  3. You could try him on something called the GAPS diet. It’s a long road back from allergies but it’s worth a try.

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