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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 will never go back to eating gluten.. 5% still has a problem!!!!! And it states an acidic environment but what about people who follow an alternative way of life and do not have the acidic intestinal lining? Many work at keeping their bodies on the alkaline side and not wanting to be acidic...

    Too many people who do not have celiac disease, including medical professionals will NOT feed their family gluten because wheat has been so genetically modified.... for that reason alone we should not think of wheat as the " staff of life" as it was a hundred years ago...

     

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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 absolutely agree with you, Sara. Furthermore, Dr. Kenneth Fine says only 1% of all Americans have HLA-DQB genes which do not predispose them to gluten intolerance, and Dr. Rodney Ford says gluten is bad for everyone. Wheat germ agglutinin kills living cells in all mammals. The more pharmaceutical companies try to make gluten tolerable to us, the more food scientists will genetically modify wheat to be more addictive. I am just too sensitive to gluten and it is too harmful, even by breathing it.

     

    NO THANKS!

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    Would I take this pill? It depends. If it is 95% effective and I'm very sensitive to gluten, I still may experience troubling symptoms. Also, if the cost is high, as it likely will be for complex drug like this and companies needing to recoup their R&D investment, then I may wait for affordable generic versions with the added benefit of seeing if any rare adverse events emerge once the drug is on the market.

    Like Stephen, I'm super sensitive to gluten and have dermatitis herpetiformis. All it takes is gluten the size of a grain of salt to activate my symptoms. So the pill would have to be 100% effective for me. Also wait for adverse reactions. In time maybe the chemists will figure it out. Until then, I eaten gluten-free.

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    It's foolish for them to think they can make this safe. They will never get to 100% - And I have a hard time believing they could even achieve 95%. What happens if you eat a small amount of bread, and wash it down with a beer? That bread and beer will be making its way out of your stomach much too quickly to break down even a minority of the peptides before they hit your intestines. If you've been on a long term strict gluten-free diet, eating even a small amount will jack your anti-gliadin count up, which will just cause a worse reaction the next time you eat it, and the next. - Snake oil in a RX bottle

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    I've learned to hate gluten with such a passion. I don't think I could change back to being a gluten lover after so much suffering I went through before the idiot doctors gave me a diagnosis.

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    digestive enzymes that break down the gluten peptide already exist but now PHARMA is trying to capitalize here and make people think the only way to get them is from your medical doctor!

    True about PHARMA making an enzyme that already exists into a drug (maybe tweaking it a little to get it patented). There are enzymes out now that hone in on dairy and gluten. By the way, there are plenty of folks who still think their dairy allergy stems from an inability to digest lactose, when in reality, they cannot digest the casein in milk. Lactase does nothing for them.

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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.

    John s,

    I agree with you. When i read this and saw 95 percent I thought why not 100 percent or at least 99. That's not enough for me. And cost is a concern for me too. If it were a higher percentage I'd still only take it on certain occasions. I want to see more testing done first.

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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.

    Good point, Mar!!! I'm so glad you wrote this! I would be very skeptical to try it too. Why put something harmful in your body to fight off another harmful product?

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    When you say "soon," how soon do you mean? I would absolutely take it as long as it protects the small intestine from the damage gluten causes! Someone said it's available in Europe? Have celiacs in Europe who have been on it had endoscopies to see if their small intestine is still okay?

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    Details about timing and eating would be good. I would still not knowingly eat gluten if possible. But twice recently I went to functions where I asked ahead of time about the menu, but when I got there the meat had gravy on it. I would have ate before or brought food had I known. With this pill, maybe scraping off as much gravy as possible, then eating the meat would be an option. Also salad dressings at events where the dressing is already on the salad and no "naked" salad is available.

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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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