Scientists report that someday soon, celiac patients might not need to go down the special “gluten-free” aisle of the grocery store anymore. They are making progress toward a pill that could allow celiac patients to eat pastries, breads, cereals and other foods that contain the protein called gluten. (Kind of like the lactase pills that lactose-intolerant people can take so they can eat dairy products.)
About 2 million – 3 million Americans have celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder in which gluten causes inflammation in the digestive tract. Gluten is in wheat, rye and barley products. The only treatment right now is going on a gluten-free diet, which means staying away from cereals, soups, cookies and breads that contain the protein.
Fortunately, many companies are making products, such as specialty breads, muffins, cookies and cakes that are gluten-free. And some companies are reminding consumers that not all cereals and bakery products contain gluten anyway — rice-, corn- and potato-based foods are still OK to eat.
Gluten-free products have gotten notoriety lately because several celebrities, such as Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga, have dropped gluten from their diets in order to lose weight. However, giving up gluten won’t necessarily cause the pounds to melt away. In fact, some people say that they’ve gained weight on a gluten-free diet. That’s probably because many of these products have a lot more sugar or fat than their gluten-containing counterparts to make up for the missing protein and to make it taste better.
In a recent issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, a team of scientists describe their discovery of a naturally occurring enzyme that seemed like it would be able to break down gluten into such small pieces so that it wouldn’t cause problems for those with celiac disease. They changed some parts of the enzyme in the laboratory so that it would actually meet all the necessary criteria to allow patients to eat regular bakery items.
The new enzyme (called KumaMax) broke down more than 95 percent of a gluten peptide implicated in celiac disease in acidic conditions like those in the stomach. “These combined properties make the engineered [enzyme] a promising candidate as an oral therapeutic for celiac disease,” say the researchers.