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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Can Enzyme Supplements Really Break Down Gluten?

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Celiac.com 11/02/2011 - With the rise in celiac disease diagnoses, increasing awareness of gluten-free issues, and an explosion of gluten-free related products, it is no surprise that supplements claiming to break down gluten would find their way onto the market.

    In fact, a number of supplements currently on the market claim to do just that: to break down gluten after it has been consumed.

    Photo: CC--ITA Image LibraryAre these claims accurate? Are these products in any way helpful for people following a gluten-free diet? Finally, do these supplements offer a safe alternative to a gluten-free diet for people who suffer from celiac disease and/or gluten-sensitivity?

    For example, GlutenEase, made by Enzymedica Inc., contains a blend of enzymes, including amylase, glucoamylase and dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (DDP-IV) — that are intended to "digest both gluten and casein, a protein found in milk," according to the company.

    The website for GlutenEase says that the supplement can "support" people who have trouble digesting gluten. However, and most importantly, the site says that GlutenEase is "not formulated" for people with celiac disease.

    Gluten Defense, made by Enzymatic Therapy Inc., contains a similar blend of enzymes that includes DDP-IV, lactase and amylase.

    The site for Gluten Defense says the product is "specifically formulated to defend against hidden gluten" that can cause gas, bloating and indigestion.

    But what does that mean? Does that mean that taking the supplement might offer people with celiac disease some extra protection against accidental gluten contamination? That seems doubtful, and unproven from a scientific standpoint.

    Unlike GlutenEase, Gluten Defense offers no specific disclaimer for people with celiac disease. There is also no claim that the product is safe, or in any way formulated for people with celiac disease.

    Dave Barton, whose title is "Director of Education" for Enzymedica, claims that many people who say they have celiac disease see improvement when taking product, and that some even manage to begin eating wheat again.

    However, Barton is quick to warn consumers that there's "no way to guarantee that it would break down 100% of gluten proteins."

    But that's the problem isn't it? It would need to break down nearly all of the gluten proteins in order for those proteins to not cause damage to the person with celiac disease.

    The fact is that these enzyme supplements may break down a few molecules of gluten protein, but no supplement exists that will make it safe for people with celiac disease to eat gluten again.

    According to Dr. Stefano Guandalini, professor of pediatrics and director of the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, "[t]he amount of gluten that these would be able to digest is ridiculously low. For people with celiac disease, these are something to completely avoid."

    Dr. Peter Green, director of the Columbia University's Celiac Disease Center, agrees that current enzyme supplements would digest only a small percentage of gluten molecules.

    However, Green adds, the basic concept is sound. Pharmaceutical companies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to create an enzyme-based drug that would permit people with celiac disease to consume gluten. However, Green points out, the companies wouldn't be spending that money if a successful over-the-counter alternative already existed.

    Bottom line: Enzymes currently claiming to help break down gluten protein will not permit people with celiac disease to safely consume products made with wheat, rye or barley. Any benefit these enzymes may provide for people with celiac disease is strictly theoretical, and likely minimal at best.

    A completely gluten-free diet is currently the only proven treatment for celiac disease. Talk with your doctor before making any changes to your gluten-free diet for celiac disease treatment.

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    Guest aleynairey@gmail.com

    Posted

    I take these enzymes every time I eat out to avoid cross contamination. Even though waiters/waitresses try, sometimes I get poisoned. These enzymes really help me if I take them with a meal. I still order all gluten free.

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    Guest yellowoctopus

    Posted

    "The fact is that these enzyme supplements may break down a few molecules of gluten protein, but no supplement exists that will make it safe for people with celiac disease to eat gluten again."

     

    Admittedly I'm as skeptical as the author is, but this is not a fact. There is no scientific evidence that proves that these enzyme breaks down only 'a few molecules of gluten protein'.

     

    More investigation is needed to study the role of these enzymes, especially how they work within the GI tract before anyone should completely dismiss it.

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    This info was great. I've been trying to decide if I want to try enzymes. After reading some of the posts I'm going to do it. Eating out has been nearly impossible. My husband is a CEO of a hospital and his job requires us to take people to dinner meetings and I keep getting sick from cross contamination. I never eat out unless I have to but I hope the enzymes help.

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    I think the main thing is digesting blood bound whole proteins, something that supplements could do fairly easily. If you're taking it 3 times a day, your blood will not be burdened by it. Personally, I think papain or bromelain could do this cheaper. This is really how enzymes work, and it's a mistake to think it should try and digest the actual meal. Even so, whether this will help mild, mid or severe celiacs is only gonna be known by trying it.

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    I take them and as long as I take one and actually pour it on the food and swallow another one, I do great. I have noticed that I feel a lot better from many hidden gluten products. I don't sell these.

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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 science, scientific methodology, biology, anatomy, medicine, logic, and advanced research. 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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