Supplements containing gluten enzymes are available in the United States. However, research into the effects of gluten enzymes on celiac disease (CD) and other conditions is ongoing.

Gluten refers to several proteins present in certain grains, including wheat, rye, and barley. It has several uses in food, especially dough products, to help maintain their shape and texture. Many other processed foods include gluten as an additive, including beer, soy sauce, and imitation meats.

Gluten enzymes are proteins that help break down gluten in a person’s stomach after they consume foods with the substance.

Doctors associate several illnesses with gluten, such as CD and nonceliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). Scientists are still investigating how gluten enzymes work and if they may benefit people with gluten-related conditions.

This article discusses who may want to try gluten enzymes, how they work and if they are effective, and when to speak with a doctor.

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People with some gluten-associated conditions may want to try gluten enzymes. However, a person needs to speak with a healthcare professional before taking any dietary supplements.

People with CD

Those with CD have a digestive condition that triggers when they eat foods containing gluten. CD may stop a person from getting the nutrients they need. It can lead to chronic digestive issues and affect other areas of a person’s body.

Following a gluten-free diet is currently the only way to treat CD. However, people may not be able to fully follow this particular diet due to food contamination or other reasons.

Therefore, those with CD may wish to try gluten enzyme supplements. However, these supplements may not be suitable for individuals with the condition.

Researchers studied 14 gluten enzyme supplements in 2017 and concluded they:

  • could not demonstrably break down gluten during the testing process, despite manufacturers’ claims
  • may only provide relief to people due to a placebo effect
  • could cause individuals harm, as:
    • they may eat gluten believing the supplements protect them from it — one product contained wheat, which is a hazard to those with CD
    • other products the researchers investigated may have contained wheat or other allergens, as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not closely monitor dietary supplement products and their labels

People with NCGS

People with NCGS have symptoms that are similar to people with CD. However, they test negative for CD.

Researchers of a 2018 study investigated how a gluten enzyme mixture may affect NCGS symptoms. They concluded their mixture of enzymes could improve a person’s symptoms. However, the study only involved 30 people with NCGS. Additionally, a company that produces the gluten enzyme contributed funding for the study.

People with dermatitis herpetiformis (DH) or gluten ataxia (GA)

DH is a skin condition that may affect people with CD or gluten sensitivity. GA is a condition in which a person’s immune system releases antibodies when they eat gluten. These antibodies then mistakenly attack part of a person’s brain.

People with these conditions may also wish to try gluten enzymes. However, there does not appear to be any publicly available research into the effects of gluten enzymes on DH or GA.

Researchers are still investigating whether gluten enzymes may reduce people’s CD symptoms. Scientists are studying several different gluten enzymes and treatments.

However, the research is still inconclusive. Some scientists have found that several commercially available gluten enzyme supplements do not provide benefits. Others have concluded that some of these enzymes may provide some benefit for people with CD or other gluten conditions.

The researchers of a 2021 study tested nine gluten enzyme supplements. They found one supplement containing an enzyme called caricain may be useful as an addition to a gluten-free diet for people with CD. However, it is important to note that the company that manufactures this supplement provided funding for the study.

Researchers are also studying the usefulness of other gluten enzymes. Some of these, including latiglutenase, aspergillus niger prolyl endopeptidase, and TAK-62, are undergoing clinical trials to find out if they may be safe and beneficial for people with CD.

People need to always consult a healthcare professional before taking any supplements. While some dietary supplements containing gluten enzymes may be available in the United States, research on their efficacy and safety is still ongoing.

Dietary supplements may cause side effects, especially if a person takes high doses or uses them instead of any medications a doctor has prescribed. Additionally, some supplements may interact with a person’s medication.

If a person thinks they may have CD or another gluten-associated condition, they need to speak with a healthcare professional for diagnosis before making significant dietary changes.

People with CD and other gluten-associated conditions also need to consult a healthcare professional if they notice any new or worsening symptoms or if treatments are not helping relieve them. A doctor may be able to recommend an alternative treatment or identify any other underlying health problems.

People with some conditions, such as CD or NCGS, need to follow gluten-free diets to avoid symptoms and complications. However, food contamination and other factors can make eliminating gluten from the diet difficult.

Gluten enzymes may help break down gluten in a person’s stomach, which may improve symptoms for someone with gluten-associated conditions. However, research into whether gluten enzyme supplements are effective is inconclusive.

Some research indicates that some commercially-available gluten enzyme supplements provide no benefit and are potentially hazardous for people with CD. However, scientists are studying some gluten enzymes in ongoing clinical trials for individuals with the condition.

People should not take dietary supplements without consulting a healthcare professional first. Additionally, they need to speak with a doctor if they think they may have CD or another gluten-associated condition before significantly changing their dietary habits.