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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    A Sweet Pill For Celiacs to Swallow? Progress on Enzyme Therapy for Celiac Disease

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Celiac.com 02/07/2008 - Are we close to finding a way for people with gluten intolerance and celiac disease to safely break down and properly digest wheat gluten and protein? An article recently published in the medical journal Gut describes the results of laboratory experiments in which doctors duplicated a human digestive tract and isolated an enzyme that degrades wheat gluten and protein. Moreover, the results show that the enzyme also eliminated the toxic response to the wheat gluten and protein common in folks with gluten intolerance and celiac disease.

    According to the researchers, if a full-scale trial confirms the results, people with gluten intolerance and celiac disease might be able to safely stray from their strict gluten-free diets on occasion.

    The enzyme is prolyl endoprotease isolated from Aspergillus niger and shows the power to quickly and effectively break down gluten peptides and proteins in a simulated human digestive tract. The enzyme has a similar pH level to that of the stomach, and remains intact in the stomach’s strongly acidic conditions.

    The research team, led by Dr. C. Mitea from Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands tested the enzyme in a controlled system built to function in way that is nearly identical with the human gastrointestinal tract.

    According to the report, the enzyme increased the digestion speed of the glutenins and gliadins that are found in white bread, and which people with gluten intolerance and celiac disease cannot properly break down. After 90 minutes, the gluten proteins treated with the enzyme were undetectable, whereas those glutens not treated with the enzyme, remained in the stomach for at least two hours.

    The research team obtained similar results when they repeated the test on a fast food meal rather than just white bread alone, and showed that the enzyme treated food samples also eliminated adverse T-cell stimulatory activity that occurred in untreated samples. The tests showed that, in the same amount of time that food normally remains in the stomach, the enzyme brought about the total elimination of T-cell stimulatory peptides of gliadins and glutenins.

    From the test results, the research team concluded that the enzyme is a solid choice for clinical trials to determine if it can eliminate 100% of gluten toxicity. They also noted that the enzyme is readily available in industrial quantities, and thus easy to tailor into a suitable treatment should trials prove fruitful.

    Gut, Jan 2008; 57: 25 - 32.

    Editor's Note: This is not a therapy that is designed to allow celiacs to eat gluten on a daily basis. At best it will allow them to not worry about cross-contamination when eating out.

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    Guest Rosemarie Nocera


    Thanks for this informative article. In reading the responses I feel most of my fellow celiacs are miss understanding what you have said. This is NOT a therapy, but something to take when eating out to help with cross contamination. It is a first step though. I live for the day I can order a Sicilian pizza with everything or eat bread when I go out to dinner.

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    RESPONSE to #14 & #8

    Last week I read about a product called Gluten Digest made by NOW -which makes high quality supplements.

    I am VERY interested in trying it out!

    Comment #14 - The idea is that if we take an enzyme like this daily we should have good results when we are contaminated or when we eat it on purpose(!).

    Comment #8 - This should absolutely be available over the counter because being gluten free costs enough already-the world seems so intolerable for a gluten free person that I would be annoyed if we were alienated further by needing a prescription. Also then we are labeled as having an auto-immune disorder which is such a crappy western way of looking at the body. Think positively & rid your body of dis-ease.

    I like to say that my body is 'sensitive' and that I manage that by not eating certain foods -I don't feel the need to label it with some terrible name unless it benefits me in a restaurant etc.

    Do you WANT to have a disorder or do you want to LIVE healthily?(unlike all the wheat eaters in the world!) Sometimes I think we are lucky for being intolerant of such a poison!

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    I quote - 'shows the power to quickly and effectively break down gluten peptides and proteins in a simulated human digestive tract'


    This sounds very promising indeed - however it is a simulated human digestive tract - I wonder when they will try it on the real deal? Keep us posted with all the breaking news!

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    I use a product available at health food stores called Gluten Ease, which allows me to eat out occasionally without worrying about cross contamination. It is NOT a treatment, but an enzyme that helps break down gluten, preventing or at the very least moderating my symptoms. It's about $30 for a 60 tab bottle, made by Enzymedica. I'd love to have other choices!!!


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    I am doing enzyme therapy and aspergillus niger is what I am using. I've not been definitively diagnosed as celiac (a biopsy 14 years ago was negative) but problems have pointed towards at least gluten intolerance. I was motivated to start enzyme therapy when I was tested for IgA allergies/sensitivities by Enterolab with positive results for gluten, soy, dairy and eggs. I'm not eating anything with those foods for at least a year and hope, with the enzyme therapy, to be able to at least eventually rotate the dairy and eggs. I'm a type 1 diabetic (38 years) and was diagnosed with atrophic gastritis & malabsorption of fat soluble vitamins 3 years ago -- this is what led me to reconsider the celiac issue. I've read a lot about enzyme therapy (google on enzymes+Edward Howell; enzymes+Howard Loomis; or the book Enzyme Cure). It is very grounded and not a new concept. I didn't start the enzyme therapy thinking gluten might be feasible again but it would be great to have additional research that shows the enzymes help process the gluten. Looking forward to hearing more!

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,000 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in biology, anatomy, medicine, science, and advanced research, and scientific methods. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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