Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
Gluten is a protein found in various varieties of wheat, including spelt, barley, and rye.
For more than a decade, scientists have been looking for ways to use enzymes to treat issues related to gluten, a protein found in various varieties of wheat-including spelt, kamut, and triticale-as well as barley and rye. While a gluten-free diet continues to be the best solution for full-blown celiac disease, an autoimmune condition brought on by exposure to gluten, some enzyme supplements may reduce negative reactions for those with a mild gluten intolerance.
Although gluten is implicated in both conditions, they differ in terms of diagnosis.
Celiac disease can be objectively diagnosed with blood tests that detect specific antibodies, but there is no widely accepted medical test for non-Celiac gluten sensitivity-avoiding all gluten and monitoring any resulting symptom changes is the usual method of detection. To complicate things further, the degree of gluten intolerance can vary, with some people experiencing symptoms from tiny amounts and others tolerating gluten occasionally.
The underlying mechanisms also differ. In celiac disease, the immune system attacks the small intestine and triggers inflammation whenever you eat gluten.
It can cause serious intestinal damage, prevent nutrients from being absorbed, and lead to other serious illnesses. Although gluten intolerance doesn’t trigger this type of reaction, bloating, pain, and fatigue are common symptoms of both conditions.
The Gluten-Free Trend
With or without digestive problems, many people now view gluten as an unhealthy ingredient that should be avoided. According to Mintel, a global market research company, 22 percent of Americans followed a gluten-free diet in 2014, up from 15 percent in the previous year, but many more choose gluten-free versions of some foods. Between 2012 and 2014, sales of gluten-free snacks increased by 163 percent, and sales of gluten-free foods overall rose by 63 percent.
Gluten Digestion Is Mysterious
In our digestive tract, enzymes and microbes, also called beneficial bacteria or probiotics, routinely break down all the food we eat so that nutrients can be absorbed and waste can be eliminated. Gluten is a combination of proteins that doesn’t always get broken down. Scientists haven’t figured out exactly why, but they are making some headway into finding ways to treat the issue. For example:
- Microbes: A study at Boston University examined 150 different gut microbes and identified specific ones that are involved in digesting gluten. This was preliminary research in a lab setting, and has not reached the point where a supplement could effectively provide the right microbes, but researchers believe it’s a fruitful direction toward a potential solution.
- A new enzyme: Other research has looked at enzymes that could conceivably counteract celiac disease, much as a lactase enzyme enables people who are lactose intolerant to eat dairy products. In one study, researchers engineered an enzyme they call KumaMax, which broke down 95 percent of a protein believed to cause celiac disease. This was done in a lab setting; work has not reached the point where a product could be manufactured, but it’s another promising avenue.
How Supplements Can Help
There are no supplements that cure celiac disease or reverse gluten intolerance. But a specific type of enzyme can help enhance the breakdown and digestion of gluten.
DPP IV-Since gluten is made up of a combination of proteins, a combination of enzymes may help to break it down. DPP IV, short for dipeptidyl peptidase IV, is an enzyme blend designed to break down bonds that hold gluten proteins together, and thus to enhance their digestion.
DPP IV is an ingredient in a variety of enzyme supplements. It is also known to help the body digest casein in dairy products.
Products containing DPP IV are ideal for targeting hidden sources of gluten, whether from restaurant meals or accidental cases of cross-contamination. And if you don’t have celiac disease, DPP IV can help reduce symptoms from that occasional splurge on gluten-containing foods; although, again, the enzymes are intended as more of an insurance against accidental gluten ingestion.
Healing a Damaged Gut
The walls of the intestines can be damaged and become “leaky,” allowing microscopic particles to escape from the digestive tract into blood, causing inflammation. Typically described as “leaky gut,” this condition can lead to a variety of uncomfortable symptoms and impair the immune system. Gluten intolerance may contribute to the development of leaky gut, along with toxins and herbicides, especially those used in industrial production of soy, corn, and wheat.
A new supplement, called Restore, features a combination of plant-based minerals that tighten junctions in the intestinal walls to maintain or rebuild a healthy barrier and enable the digestive system to function properly. This helps to prevent or heal a leaky gut, and to protect against negative effects of gluten.
Arthur Andrew Devigest ADS, a concentrated source of DDP IV, is designed to enhance both gluten and casein digestion.
Enzymatic Therapy Gluten Defense is a vegetarian-friendly supplement with DPP IV for improved digestion of gluten and casein.
Enzymedica GlutenEase with DPP IV helps enhance digestion of foods with gluten and casein. It’s also non-GMO.