Gluten has been under scrutiny for the past several years by dieters, health enthusiasts, and those who have certain medical conditions.
Many people choose to eat a gluten-free diet either because gluten makes them seriously ill, they’re sensitive to it, or because they believe limiting it in their diet is part of their strategy for weight loss.
For those with a condition like celiac disease, the only way to treat it is to adhere to a gluten-free diet. However, this is difficult because many foods have unlabeled ingredients containing small amounts of gluten.
There’s currently no approved medication for celiac disease, but plenty of dietary supplements claim to help people digest gluten if they’re accidentally exposed. There’s scant evidence to back up most of the claims, though.
Read on to learn about how dietary supplements and medicines work, which ones seem to be promising, and which you should avoid.
Gluten is a collective name for a group of proteins found in several types of grain, including oats, barley, wheat, couscous, rye, and things made from them, such as sauces and marinades.
It gets its name from the Latin word gluten, which means glue. It changes the texture of foods, making bread dough more stretchy and some products lighter and less dense.
Up to two-thirds of people with celiac disease who are on a well controlled, gluten-free diet are still exposed to gluten contamination, according to a
A gluten-free diet is currently the only way to treat the condition, so having a backup plan in case of accidental exposure is helpful. That’s where supplements come in.
However, you should know that dietary supplements are different from drugs. According to the
Biopharmaceutical companies are currently researching seemingly endless amounts of dietary supplements to help support those who can’t digest gluten or choose to avoid it. Many products on the market are already claiming to be digestive enzymes that break down gluten, but don’t have sound research backing them up.
Gluten-associated medical conditions
The National Institutes of Health lists five medical conditions associated with an inability to tolerate or digest gluten:
- Celiac disease (gluten-sensitive enteropathy) affects about
1% of the U.S. population.
- Dermatitis herpetiformis is a very painful and itchy skin rash that affects about
10% of peoplewith celiac disease.
- Non-celiac gluten sensitivity affects between
0.5% to 13%of the population.
- Wheat or grain allergies can lead to adverse reactions to products that also contain gluten.
- Gluten ataxia is an autoimmune disorder that triggers antibodies to attack the brain when you eat gluten.
- modifying gluten in foods so that it doesn’t trigger a flare-up
- keeping gluten inside your intestines in what’s called the gut lumen, so it can’t be fully digested and circulated
- preventing digested gluten or its components from absorption through your intestines
- making digested gluten less inflammatory
Talk with your doctor first
Always talk with your doctor before taking a new dietary supplement.
Because the FDA
loosely regulatesthem, many are ineffective, and some can be harmful depending on your condition and what else you may be taking.
There’s a lot of promising preliminary research into compounds that could, in theory, be used to develop drugs and dietary supplements to help people digest gluten. However, most are still in the trial and development phase.
There’s currently no medication approved for celiac disease. There are many dietary supplements on the market, but a
There’s some hope, though. Below are a few dietary supplements to keep an eye out for.
One of the supplement’s active ingredients is caricain, which the company describes as a natural enzyme found in latex extracted from the Carica papaya fruit. You take a tablet before each meal, for a maximum of four pills a day, and you must use it in conjunction with a gluten-free diet.
GluteGuard is available for sale online.
However, this study should be taken with a grain of salt. Alvine Pharmaceuticals sponsored the clinical trial on which the study’s based. Alvine developed the supplement under the name ALV003, then sold the rights to ImmunogenX, which is now further developing it under the name IMBX003.
According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, several studies have found latiglutenase effective for people with celiac disease accidentally exposed to gluten. Another clinical trial began in 2021 on the supplement’s effectiveness in people with type 1 diabetes and celiac disease.
AN-PEP is short for aspergillus niger prolyl endopeptidase.
It’s an enzyme touted to help break down gluten while it’s still in the stomach. Early research didn’t show its effectiveness conclusively.
Research is ongoing, but many products on the market are already claiming to contain the compound. None of them have been proven entirely effective at breaking down gluten. Talk with your doctor before choosing or using one.
Digestion is a complex process, and your body actually starts releasing digestive enzymes when you salivate.
With this in mind, taking supplemental digestive enzymes will likely be most effective 10 to 15 minutes before a meal. You’ll also want to avoid taking it at the same time as a fiber supplement.
As research continues we’ll hopefully have better statistics on how well this type of supplement works that includes ideal times to take them. Until then, your doctor will have the best advice for when and if you should take a gluten enzyme.
Who needs to avoid gluten?
For those who don’t have a gluten-related condition, there isn’t much research indicating that a gluten-free diet is healthier than a diet that includes it. However, many people without gluten sensitivities anecdotally say they just feel better when they stay away from it.
Those with gluten-associated medical conditions need to eat as close to zero gluten as possible, such as those with celiac disease and gluten ataxia. While those with wheat allergies may need to avoid some of the same foods, it’s not actually the gluten that’s causing their reaction.
A gluten-free diet is the only way to address specific conditions. However, adhering to an entirely gluten-free diet is hard because many foods may contain unlabeled ingredients that have small amounts of gluten.
Many dietary supplements are in the works to help you digest gluten or keep it from affecting you, but not many are proven effective yet.
On the whole, you should be wary of supplements that promise to relieve symptoms of celiac disease, or that would allow you to eat gluten without experiencing a flare-up. You should also be aware that the FDA doesn’t regulate dietary supplements as rigorously as medical drugs.
The supplements that currently show the most promise are: GluteGuard, latiglutenase, and AN-PEP. Before choosing to use a dietary supplement, talk with your doctor.
Want to join a clinical trial?
Want to get involved in the research on gluten enzymes?
Celiac.org, the website of the Celiac Disease Foundation, has a clinical trial finder at trials.celiac.org. You can also check out Clinicaltrials.gov for more information.
Make sure to always discuss any participation in a clinical trial with your doctor, especially if it involves any changes to your current treatment.