Are Glutenase Supplements Useful for Wheat Intolerance?
You may have seen the ads online or in magazines– “Use These Pills and Eat Wheat with No Problems!”. The product in question is marketed as “glutenase”, and the implication is that it is a special enzyme which breaks down gluten in the digestive system and makes it harmless to those with wheat intolerance. So… is it any good?
Well, that’s debatable. First off, scientifically speaking, there’s no such thing as “glutenase”. It’s a catch-all term for several enzymes which act on gluten, among other things. Studies conducted in vitro (i.e., in a Petri dish) and in animals have shown that various combinations of enzymes are effective at breaking down gluten molecules into smaller parts. The most promising enzymes are called aspergillopepsin (ASP), dipeptidyl peptidase IV (DPP-IV), and cysteine endoprotease (EP-B2). That said, at least one study in monkeys has shown an unexpected rise in gluten-specific antibodies in the blood after both gluten and EP-B2 were administered. This may be because the smaller, partially-digested gluten molecules can more readily pass through the intestinal lining and into the blood stream, where they can provoke an immune response.
For this reason, people with celiac disease should not attempt to use glutenase pills as a way to consume gluten. Unfortunately, with celiac disease, a diet free of foods containing gluten is the only way to go. Similarly, those with wheat allergy are risking an allergic response after eating wheat, regardless of how many enzymes they take.
The one place where glutenase supplements may have some use is in the case of wheat intolerance, which does not involve an allergic immune response. After a period on a strict gluten-free diet, once symptoms have disappeared for several weeks, someone who has been positively diagnosed with wheat intolerance (as opposed to celiac disease or wheat allergy) can begin to experiment cautiously with reintroducing gluten. This would be the appropriate circumstance for trying glutenase pills.
As with all dietary supplements, do a bit of research to see if a specific brand is reputable. Check to see if they list one or more of the specific enzymes above as ingredients, as opposed to just saying “glutenase”. See if they offer any information about clinical trials (they probably won’t– there don’t seem to be any published human trials). If the brand seems reputable, try it.
In the largely unregulated world of dietary supplements, it’s up to the consumer to determine if something works for them or not. At best, a glutenase supplement will help you eat foods containing gluten without suffering wheat intolerance symptoms. At worst, it won’t. Until more serious scientific research is done, the only way to find out if a specific product will work for you is to try it cautiously.
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