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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams
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    Can Enzyme Supplements Really Break Down Gluten?

    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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    I don't know if these products work, though they may be helpful for people with mild non-celiac gluten intolerance or for anyone with gluten intolerance who gets an accidental exposure. But I wanted to respond to your comment:

     

    "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...the companies wouldn't be spending that money if a successful over-the-counter alternative already existed."

     

    Unfortunately, this is completely untrue. Pharmaceutical companies have the goal of making money and they can't make money off of supplements because they can't patent them. So not only do they spend countless dollars creating drugs to do things that supplements may already do, they also spend money to create versions of supplements that they can call drugs and patent. Then they spend countless more dollars convincing doctors and medical organizations that supplements don't work, unless it's their version, and that only prescription products are appropriate.

     

    So I wouldn't make assumptions about the credibility of an OTC product based on what pharmaceutical companies choose to do. What I would like to see are some studies testing the enzyme products in a variety of real world situations, as well as in more controlled ways.

     

    Though at this point I'd be happy to see even a solid collection of anecdotes, since those don't seem to be out there (I don't count what's on the companies' websites). I was hoping your article would start this process, but it seems to be mostly guesswork.

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    I don't know if it is true that "companies would not be spending that money if a successful over the counter product existed." Over the counter plant based enzymes can't be patented so often they have to isolate the components to make a drug that can make money. There are ton of prescription and over the counter medications that are based on the active ingredient is a herb or supplement that is isolated. For instance Deplin, a drug for depression, is just a form of folate you can buy as a supplement. The supplement existed before Deplin made it a pharmaceutical. The company that makes deplin just did the research studies to prove it worked. So, just to reiterated, companies do take products that already exist and make them drugs to bring to mainstream markets. Great article. Thanks.

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    Anecdotally, Gluten Defense has helped our family suffer less from contamination issues when eating out. Of course it doesn't let you go and knowingly eat gluten, it's not claiming to do that and anyone who does that is just silly. We know the only treatment is a life-long gluten free diet. But in terms of minimizing discomfort when you want to go out for a meal with friends or something, I think it's helpful.

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    Good article, Jeff. I actually take the digestive enzymes from Enzymedica currently for regular meals, but I too find the idea of digesting the gluten enzymes to be a BAD thing to market. Not only does this give those of us with celiac the false impression that it is safe to consume some wheat again, but at best this product would help ease symptoms of "accidental" glutening through cross contamination and what not.

     

    I wish America in general would get off of the "wheat, corn, and soy or bust" mentality that leads to these kinds of product developments for Celiac's. Sure, I'm sure most of us are crying on the inside with the loss of wheat (2 years gluten free myself), but after all we're forced to learn when trying to heal we know how unhealthy wheat can be.

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    I keep some of the supplements in my purse and take some if I think there might be a chance I was exposed to gluten accidentally. I figure, what the heck, it might help, who knows? I would never purposefully eat gluten and then try to counter it with these products, though.

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    All I can say is that my husband has not had his biopsy yet, so unsure if celiac, but he DEFINITELY has a gluten intolerance. He has used Gluten-ese when he has consumed accidental gluten (a contaminated food), and if he takes it at the first sign of problems - as soon as he realizes there is an issue - the symptoms quickly subside. I am not saying that damage wasn't done, but he believes that it helps minimize it. He now also takes it if we go out to eat. He will still order gluten free foods, but this helps him in case of cross-contamination, which seems to happen more often than not in restaurants....

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    After breaking out in dermatitis herpetiformis and the usual bowel distress the last 2 times I tried to eat in restaurants that assured me my food was gluten free I've learned I simply can never eat in restaurants. This makes life difficult to say the least as it limits any traveling. If this would help to neutralize that unsuspected crumb in my food because of cross contamination in a restaurant kitchen it would be worth using. I would like to know if used for that purpose if it is effective. I might risk supposedly gluten free restaurant food again if it is.

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    After breaking out in dermatitis herpetiformis and the usual bowel distress the last 2 times I tried to eat in restaurants that assured me my food was gluten free I've learned I simply can never eat in restaurants. This makes life difficult to say the least as it limits any traveling. If this would help to neutralize that unsuspected crumb in my food because of cross contamination in a restaurant kitchen it would be worth using. I would like to know if used for that purpose if it is effective. I might risk supposedly gluten free restaurant food again if it is.

    I am in the same situation. The DH makes us much more aware of what we are consuming, but it makes it impossible to eat in anything except a gluten free establishment. I also would love to have something that would keep minute amounts from getting into my system and causing my DH to react.

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    The emphasis on safety is extremely well placed in this article and those thinking otherwise are only kidding themselves. Of course, Stanford University has been working on two types of enzymes for years. And even though I agree the basic concept is sound--in practice this may not be the best and most likely--if and when it can get to market--the larezotide acetate(ie, zonulin blocker) will do the trick, but there again, only if taken properly to cover mealtimes. We all need to keep on Teva Pharm. to keep the ball rolling for AT1001!!(Alba->Cephalon->Teva: company rights purchase history).

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    Maybe the people in the celiac community should conduct our own trials using these enzymes, since no one wants to commit to anything working except a gluten-free diet! It makes me so mad every time I read that line... Like we don't know that we can't eat bread! We just want to be able to eat gluten free meals without added fear of cross-contamination! I have read many positive reviews of these enzyme products from people using them as that "safety-net." My husband is a university student who eats at the dining hall. He hasn't been able to go a week at school without cross-contamination! He verifies every item with the chef, who has been so kind as to start labeling things gluten-free, but still can't go a week without the migraines, narcolepsy, and GI symptoms. I bought [an enzyme brand] for him two weeks ago and he hasn't had an issue since.

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams 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, and science. He previously served as Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and provided 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.

  • Related Articles

    Jefferson Adams
    Be My Gluten-free Valentine!
    Celiac.com 02/08/2011 - Valentine's Day is upon us once again, and, once again, the options are many. Dine in? Dine out? Sweets or no sweets? Chocolates? Cakes? Candies? How to make sure it's all gluten-free?
    The choices can be daunting enough, but for people with a gluten-free spouse or loved one, those choices can make or break a Valentine's Day celebration.
    To make things easier and to help you have the best possible gluten-free Valentine's Day, celiac.com has prepared this list of ideas and tips.
    Candy:
    For a comprehensive list of gluten-free candies, please see Celiac.com's Gluten-friendly and Gluten-Free Candy and Treats.
    Dine-in:
    For an easy, intimate Valentine's dinner at home, try gluten-free Cornish Game Hens.
    Dessert:
    Gluten-free Chocolate Valentine's Mousse
    Ingredients:
    8 strawberries (optional)
    Chocolate Hearts (optional)
    1/3 cup sugar
    3 tablespoons cornstarch
    1 cup milk
    ½ cup water
    4 egg yolks, beaten
    1 ¾ cups Hershey's Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips or Hershey's Milk Chocolate Chips
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    ¾ cup whipping cream, whipped
    ½ cup whipping cream, whippedDirections:

    Prepare Chocolate Hearts. Stir together sugar and cornstarch in medium heavy saucepan. Stir in milk and water. Cook and stir over medium-high heat until boiling. Stir about half of hot mixture into beaten egg yolks. Return all to saucepan. Boil gently 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add chocolate chips and vanilla to hot mixture; stir until chocolate is melted. Pour into small metal bowl. Set bowl inside a larger bowl filled with ice water. Beat on high speed of mixer about 5 minutes or until chocolate mixture is completely cooled. Fold in the whipped ¾ cup cream. Spoon into martini glasses or dessert dishes. Cover lightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate 30 minutes or up to 2 days. Just before serving, top each with a dollop of the whipped ½ cup cream and a strawberry, if desired. Peel chocolate hearts from wax paper; place one on each dessert. 8 servings. Chocolate Hearts: Place ¼ cup Hershey's Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips or Milk Chocolate Chips and ½ teaspoon shortening (do not use butter, margarine, spread or oil) in small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at HIGH (100%) 45 seconds; stir until melted. Let stand 2 minutes. Pour into heavy duty small plastic bag, Cut off a tiny corner of the bag. Squeeze bag to pipe mixture into heart shapes on wax paper. Refrigerate until firm.Tip: To form perfectly shaped chocolate hearts, trace around a small heart-shaped cookie cutter on a piece of white paper. Tape wax paper over the white paper; pipe chocolate on wax paper following the outline.
    For an alternative to chocolate mousse, gluten-free baked apples make a great Valentine's treat.
    If baking is the path to the heart of your beloved, then try making this flowerless chocolate cake.

    Flourless Chocolate Valentine's Cake
    Ingredients:
    8-10 strawberries
    1/2 cup water
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    3/4 cup white sugar
    1 tablespoon of powdered sugar
    18 ounces bittersweet chocolate in small pieces
    1 cup unsalted butter
    6 eggs
    Sprig of mint (garnish)Directions:
    Heat oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C).
    Grease one 10 inch round cake pan and set aside.
    In a small saucepan over medium heat combine the water, salt and sugar. Stir until completely dissolved and set aside.
    Use a double boiler or a microwave oven to melt the bittersweet chocolate.
    Pour the melted chocolate into a mixing bowl.
    Cut the butter into small pieces and beat the butter into the chocolate, 1 piece at a time. Beat in the hot sugar-water. Slowly beat in the eggs, one at a time.
    Pour the mixture into the greased cake pan.
    Fill a pan that is larger than the cake pan halfway with boiling water.
    Place the cake pan and mixture into the pan with the boiling water.
    Bake cake in the water bath at 300 degrees F (150 degrees C) for 45 minutes. When the cake is done, the center will still look wet.
    Remove the pan from the water and place in a refrigerator overnight. To release from the mold, place the bottom of the cake pan in hot water for 10-15 seconds and flip onto a serving plate. Dust with powdered sugar. Garnish each slice with strawberry, and a sprig of mint.
    Gluten-free Valentine Cookie Delivery:
    If baking is the key to your gluten-free Valentine's heart, yet you have no time to bake, try ordering some delicious gluten-free cookies from Beautiful Sweets, the cookies Al Rokker calls "the most beautiful cookies in the world."
    Dine-out:
    Dining out at a romantic restaurant is a time-honored way to put a smile on your Valentine's face. You'll get extra points if you can pull off a romantic Valentine restaurant dinner for your gluten-free loved one.
    Remember, certain types of cuisine are more naturally gluten-free than others. Generally speaking, Asian, Mexican, Central- and South American cuisines are a good bet. However, with a bit of scouting, even Italian can deliver a great gluten-free Valentine's dinner.
    Many full-service Italian restaurant feature secondi piatti, such as roasted meats, seafoods, and risottos, Many of these are gluten-free, or can be prepared without flour.
    Whatever cuisine you choose, be sure to call ahead to the restaurant, and to ask about any menu item, or method of preparation if you are not sure about the gluten status.
    So, the key to a great gluten-free Valentine's Day is a bit of planning, some double-checking, and dash of pure romance.
    With those things in your favor, your'e sure to deliver a great gluten-free Valentine's Day!


    Jefferson Adams
    Celiac.com 11/27/2014 - A growing desire to avoid gluten is changing the food industry in myriad ways, so says an article in the Oct 25th 2014 edition of the Economist.
    The article points to a fast rising consumer demand for gluten-free products that began with sufferers of celiac disease, but has quickly grown to include large numbers of health conscious eaters, and which shows no sign of slowing down.
    They cite a recent survey by market research firm Mintel, which says sales of gluten-free food and drink in the U.S. have surged from $5.4 billion to $8.8 billion since 2012, and are set to grow a further 20% by 2015.
    They note that Mintel forecasts a 61% growth in gluten-free food sales in America by 2017, with similar increases expected in other rich countries, and they also point to double-digit sales growth of gluten-free products in most European countries--with Britain leading the way.
    Basically, gluten-free food is a strong enough influence on businesses that it is changing the offerings at food markets and eating establishments across the board.
    Grocers are giving precious shelf space, and restaurants are shifting their menus to incorporate gluten-free offerings. It was recently reported that more than half of restaurants in the U.S. will include gluten-free items on this menus by the end of 2014.
    And, as the Economist notes, Europe is following suit. “Even small convenience stores in remote parts of rural Ireland and Italy now stock ranges of gluten-free bread and cakes,” the magazine points out. The big losers here, in terms of market share are other specialty products, such as vegetarian and meat replacement products, whose sales have fallen flat.
    Interestingly, the trend is being ruled not by fad dieters, but largely by people worried about their health. The Economist points to a survey by the research firm Kantar, which found that only about 1 in 5 people who buy gluten-free food say they buy it for non-medical reasons.
    Read the complete article in The Economist.

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