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New Enzyme Blocks Gluten

Posted on May 15, 2017, 6 a.m. in GI-Digestive Allergy Autoimmune

Study finds that taking a tablet containing the enzyme AN-PEP can stop gluten from reaching the small intestine and greatly reduce gluten intolerance symptoms

Researchers may have discovered an enzyme that relieves symptoms in individuals who are sensitive to gluten. The study shows that consuming a tablet with the enzyme stops gluten from impacting the small intestine. The result is a significant reduction in gluten intolerance symptoms. The study results were recently made public at Digestive Disease Week 2017. This is an international conference that brings specialists from fields like endoscopy, gastroenterology, and hepatology together to share information.

A Quick Look at Gluten

Gluten is a protein typically found in grains like barley, wheat, and rye. Gluten is also in some supplements and medicines. Gluten induces harsh gastrointestinal problems in certain individuals. Some of these individuals suffer from celiac disease. Others are sensitive to gluten. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder determined by one's genetics. It causes the body's immune system to combat the small intestine when gluten is detected.

Gluten sensitivity has some of the same symptoms as celiac disease. However, gluten sensitivity does not cause harm to the small intestine. Gluten intolerance can spur symptoms like muscle cramps and numbness in the legs. According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, about 18 million individuals in the United States cannot tolerate gluten yet they do not suffer from celiac disease.

Study Details

A recent study indicates that the enzyme known as aspergillus niger-derived proly endoprotease, referred to as “AN-PEP”, prevents gluten from moving into the small intestine. The result is a reduction in symptoms in patients who are sensitive to gluten. The research was spearheaded by Julia Konig, a postdoctoral research fellow with the University of Orebro's School of Medial Sciences. Konig's group tested AN-PEP on 18 individuals who were sensitive to gluten.

Study participants ate porridge along with two wheat cookies that had gluten. They were then provided with either AN-PEP or a placebo. The enzyme was provided at either a high dose or low dose. Konig and her research team gauged gluten levels within the stomach and the small intestine across three hours.

Study Results

It was determined that both the high-dose AN-PEP groups and low-dose AN-PEP groups experienced a gluten reduction of 85 percent in their stomachs compared to the placebo group. The initial part of the small intestine, known as the duodenum, had a reduced gluten level of 81 percent in the high-dose AN-PEP group. The low-dose AN-PEP group had an 87 percent reduction versus the placebo group.

Why the Study Matters

Prior studies showed the AN-PEP enzyme breaks apart gluten when implemented through a liquid meal. However, the study described above is the first to have confirmed the findings with a traditional solid meal. The findings are important as AN-PEP lets gluten-sensitive individuals feel more comfortable when eating out with family and friends. After all, such individuals are constantly wondering whether restaurant dishes are completely gluten free. Even a tiny amount of gluten can negatively impact those who are sensitive to gluten. AN-PEP serves an important role addressing residual gluten that typically results in discomfort.

A Caveat of Note

Researchers indicate the benefits of AN-PEP might not apply to individuals who suffer from celiac disease. Those who are plagued by celiac disease often endure long-term harm by even a minor amount of gluten. Therefore, the research team could not test AN-PEP in such patients. As a result, AN-PEP cannot be recommended to those who have celiac disease.

This does not take away from the fact that the study's results provide a positive outlook for individuals who have non-celiac gluten intolerance. AN-PEP can minimize the harsh side effects that occur when those with gluten sensitivities consume gluten by mistake.

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Dr. Julia König presented data from the study, "Aspergillus niger-derived enzyme degrades gluten in the stomach of gluten-sensitive subjects" abstract Su1137, on Sunday, May 7, at 9:30 a.m. CT, in South Hall of McCormick Place. For more information about featured studies, as well as a schedule of availability for featured researchers, please visit http://www.ddw.org/press. DSM provided the enzyme for the study.

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