Is Your Home’s Drywall Gluten-Free?

CC BY 2.0. Family Handyman/ Going to need a better mask

After complaining about the awfulness of drywall, a commenter with Celiac Disease noted another issue with the stuff: It may have gluten in it. Seriously. More than one person with the disease tells the message board that their DH (Dermatitis Herpetiformis, a skin manifestation of celiac disease) started itching like mad when around construction sites where drywall was being installed. Another noted:

While house hunting we looked at a house that was being renovated and had big holes punched through the drywall. Drywall dust everywhere! I should have known to stay out but I didn't, I went and toured it and two days later I was sick as can be with all my typical symptoms of a glutening.

Researching the subject, they found that one of the components of gypsum board, or drywall, is starch:

The [gypsum] plaster is mixed with fiber (typically paper and/or fiberglass), plasticizer, foaming agent, finely ground gypsum crystal as an accelerator, EDTA, starch or other chelate as a retarder, various additives that may increase mildew and/or fire resistance (fiberglass or vermiculite), wax emulsion or silanes for lower water absorption and water.

Starch is in fact common as a binder in many building materials, including drywall and joint compound. According to USG, maker of Sheetrock, a brand of drywall, their board is made with corn starch, which would not cause a problem. Wheat starch might be used in other boards, but there are questions about whether it causes a problem; according to one study,

Products made from wheat starch are commonly eaten by celiac patients in some European countries. Wheat starch inherently is not harmful to celiac patients, but proteins adhering to the starch granules that make up a predominant part of wheat flour would be if the adherent proteins were gluten proteins, which is the case for some starch preparations.

Nonetheless, these are people with serious medically recognized gluten intolerance and they are having a reaction to drywall. But that’s no more than one percent of the population, who have celiac disease. Twenty times that number buy gluten-free products and believe that they have gluten sensitivity, and while many say that non-celiac gluten sensitivity doesn’t exist, TreeHugger recently noted that a Biological explanation for wheat sensitivity has been found, and that there might be reason behind the fad.

So is this another reason to hate drywall? It certainly is a reason to avoid construction sites where there is a lot of drywall dust flying around, and make sure that the site is really well vacuumed before occupancy.