Scientists have found that an enzyme tablet can potentially reduce the side effects that occur when gluten-sensitive individuals accidentally eat a little gluten.
Taking this enzyme tablet while consuming foods containing gluten prevents a significant amount of it from entering the small intestine, the researchers found.
This could enable gluten-sensitive patients to ingest small quantities of gluten without experiencing symptoms, such as bloating, diarrohea and abdominal pain.
"This substance allows gluten-sensitive patients to feel safer, for example, when they are out with friends at a restaurant and can't be sure whether something is 100 per cent gluten-free," said the study's lead author Julia Konig from the University of Orebro, Sweden.
"Since even small amounts of gluten can affect gluten-sensitive patients, this supplement can play an important role in addressing the residual gluten that is often the cause of uncomfortable symptoms," Konig said.
For the study, 18 self-reported gluten-sensitive patients ate a porridge that included two crumbled wheat cookies containing gluten.
They also took either a high dose or low dose of AN-PEP, or a placebo. Researchers then measured gluten levels in the stomach and small intestine over the course of three hours.
The study found that AN-PEP, in both high and low doses, broke down gluten in both the stomach and the first part of the small intestine, or duodenum.
In the stomach, gluten levels in both the high- and low-dose groups were 85 per cent lower than in the placebo group.
Once the food reached the duodenum, gluten levels were reduced by 81 per cent in the high dose group and 87 per cent in the low dose group versus placebo.
"We are not suggesting that AN-PEP will give these individuals the ability to eat pizza or pasta, sources of large amounts of gluten, but it might make them feel better if they mistakenly ingest gluten," Konig said.
The team did not test the enzyme on celiac disease patients, because even small amounts of gluten can cause long-term harm in these individuals.
Because of that, Konig does not recommend celiac patients view this enzyme as a way to start eating any gluten.