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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Will a Pill Soon Enable Celiac Patients to Eat Gluten?

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Caption: Photo: CC--doug88888

    Celiac.com 01/16/2013 - Scientists are making progress on the creation of a pill that would allow people with celiac disease to safely eat gluten in much the same way that lactase pills allow people with lactose intolerance to eat dairy products without upsetting digestion.

    Photo: CC--doug88888As with lactase, the approach involves the use of an enzyme to break down the gluten that causes celiac symptoms.

    When people consume wheat, rye or barley, enzymes in the stomach break down gluten into smaller pieces, called peptides. For most people, these peptides are harmless. But for the 2 million-3 million Americans with celiac disease, the peptides trigger an autoimmune response and painful symptoms.

    Currently, the only way for people with celiac disease to avoid the autoimmune response and the accompanying symptoms is to avoid gluten altogether.

    However, Justin Siegel, Ingrid Swanson Pultz and colleagues think that an enzyme might be able to further break down the offending peptides in the stomach, thus permitting people with celiac disease to safely eat gluten-containing foods.

    Their efforts led to the discovery of a naturally occurring enzyme that has some of the ideal properties for doing so. They then used a computer to modify the enzyme in the laboratory so that it would do the job completely.

    The newly engineered enzyme, which they called KumaMax, breaks down more than 95 percent of gluten peptides associated with celiac disease in acidic conditions that mimic the stomach.

    Clearly, further research and trials are needed, but these early results make the new enzyme a strong candidate for oral use in the treatment of celiac disease.

    What do you think? Would you take spill that allowed your body to safely digest gluten from wheat, barley or rye without any of the symptoms or damage associated with celiac disease? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.


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    I echo the sentiments of many above. I would still eat a gluten-free diet, but it would help immensely when going out with family and friends. It would be great to share meals with others in social situations.

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    Over the 7 years I have lived with celiac disease, I have become more sensitive to trace amounts of gluten. I used to be able to tolerate certified gluten-free oats, but now I cannot. So I don't think the pill would work for me, 95% is good, but I cannot tolerate tiny ppm of gluten, then I would still become ill. But I like the idea, if they can create an enzyme that could eliminate the anti-body reaction, that would give me more flexibility when eating out and eating food in environments I cannot control. So if the pill can handle 99.999999999% I MIGHT take it on rare occasions.

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    Great article again. Thanks for bringing us the latest, Jefferson. And would I take it? Heck, yeah... to protect us when we have an accidental glutenings, like when: my sister forgot the cookies she made "just for you" needed to have gluten free oats instead of regular oats, when we want to go to a restaurant that thinks they can serve us safely and doesn't have all the necessary cross contamination habits, quite and a big bottle of Maggi seasoning hanging off the back of the stove. Or more often, when the restaurant just refuses to even try the protocol to make us a simple dish, to use a clean pan, a clean cooking spoon and instead tells us that they are charging us an "uncorking" fee of $15.00 because we brought in our own food, which we now are forced to eat. (That just happened to me.) I'd much rather take that pill, once it becomes proven safe and effective of course!

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    No I would never take a big pharma product such as this. First of all if you are a true celiac then you can tolerate absolutely no gluten and they know this, it is a well know fact. Reducing the damage by taking such a pill is a myth, don't be fooled. Gluten is an understandable protein for everyone not just a celiac, it just does not cause as much damage in a the majority of people, but it does cause damage none the less.

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    It would be great to be able to eat that way. I'm so sick of feeling bloated all the time. Plus I'm on limited income and can't currently afford a lot of the gluten-free foods!

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    Did you notice the part that says they "used a computer to modify the enzyme in the laboratory"? This is a genetically modified enzyme, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have the potential to cause all sorts of problems/imbalances in our bodies. In fact, some people argue that GMOs are to blame for the plethora of food allergies we are seeing in the US today (BT Corn might be causing a leaky gut and allowing food particles to enter the bloodstream, in-turn causing the immune system to react to these foods). I worry that long term, using a genetically modified enzyme to treat Celiac disease could actually make matters worse for people who are already dealing with serious digestive issues. Who knows in what ways this human engineered enzyme will interact with the naturally occurring enzymes and flora in our gut, not to mention the lining of our digestive system.

    I agree with you, Mar. GMOs make me very, very suspicious.

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    Well, I'll certainly never eat gluten again, pill or no pill. 95% still leaves 5% available to make us sicker than sick... Also - in my experience, plenty of pills have *other* ingredients that are hard to tolerate (fillers, binders, inks/dyes...). Lactase is a naturally occurring enzyme that breaks down the *sugar* lactose. Proteins are a whole 'nother story - and no one can assert, based on evidence, that the OTHER components of wheat protein are going to be tolerated.

     

    NO THANKS.

    I agree with you. I am not going to take it. I may keep something around just in case I get gluten by accident but otherwise I found most of the meds they make make me sick and don't work.

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    95%? I'd need 100%. In practice, not just the lab. I'd also need to have the safety and efficacy of the enzyme well tested, and even then time periods and numbers tested would be small. Finally, at what cost? I'd distinguish between something to help for an accidental gluten ingestion, versus something for regular consumption like lactase has been promoted.

    I agree, MTP: digestive enzymes are already on the market. I and my family have gluten intolerance; we buy a very expensive brand and use them to help break down both gluten and dairy in case of accidental ingestion. While they help, I don't know if I'd go so far as to say, hey! a digestive enzyme will cure everything and allow you to eat gluten and never get sick again! Um, as Mar states above, the enzyme has been genetically modified (GMOs, anyone?). I don't put ANY stock in GMOs because I personally do not believe they are good for the body. I think tinkering and tampering with what nature has given us will end up hurting rather than helping in the long run.

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    I take enzymes now if I'm not sure if there's gluten in my meal and it helps a lot so yes I loved the article and I hope this pill comes out soon!!! So excited!!

    Carol Powers: what enzymes do you take?

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    I would take the pill and still try to avoid most gluten. For me it would be a matter of helping with cross-contamination, but I would run out and start eating wheat bread again.

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    My 11 year old granddaughter has celiac disease. I would love for her to be able to go out with family and friends to a restaurant or party and enjoy eating whatever she'd like. However, I am skeptical about having her take a pill on a daily basis before it has been tested for many years. I feel that a pill of this sort will be a blessing for those suffering with celiac disease; however, I think further testing needs to be completed before being prescribed on a daily basis.

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    First, what would be the side effects, and second, I would like to know what else could happen to your body taking this pill. It would be great knowing that I could go out with my family and on vacations not to worry about what I ate.

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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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