Scientists have discovered that an enzyme ingested as a tablet could alleviate the effects of eating gluten for those that are intolerant.
The research was carried out by scientists from the School of Medical Sciences at University of Örebro, Sweden. They investigated the effect an enzyme called aspergillus niger-derived prolyl endoprotease (AN-PEP) has on gluten. The research was presented as part of Digestive Disease Week in Chicago, the world’s largest meeting of gastrointestinal experts.
Previous studies have shown that AN-PEP can break gluten down but only when ingested in liquid form via a feeding tube. This study is the first to show the same effect with a normal meal.
In the study, 18 gluten-sensitive patients were given either a high dose of AN-PEP, a low dose, or a placebo. They then ate porridge that contained crumbled wheat cookies with gluten in.
The results found that the gluten was broken down by up to about 85 percent in both the high and low dose groups before it reached the small intestine, or duodenum. This is where symptoms like feeling bloated or queasy often become apparent.
"This substance allows gluten-sensitive patients to feel safer, for example, when they are out with friends at a restaurant and can't be sure whether something is 100 percent gluten-free," said Dr Julia König, the study's lead author, in a statement.
"Since even small amounts of gluten can affect gluten-sensitive patients, this supplement can play an important role in addressing the residual gluten that is often the cause of uncomfortable symptoms."
The study authors stress that this tablet is only suitable for people who are sensitive to gluten, and not those with celiac disease where the symptoms are much more severe.
It should also be noted that the sample size of the study was fairly small, with more research likely being needed. And the amount of gluten ingested was also low, meaning gluten-sensitive people shouldn’t be anticipating eating gluten-laden meals any time soon.
“We are not suggesting that AN-PEP will give these individuals the ability to eat pizza or pasta, sources of large amounts of gluten, but it might make them feel better if they mistakenly ingest gluten,” said König.