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Enzymes and Gluten

I recently completed a Masters module in Paediatric Nutrition and as part of the course I did a literature review on the use of enzymes in coeliac disease, which I found fascinating.

Coeliac disease (CD) is an autoimmune disease producing inflammation of the small intestine which is triggered by the ingestion of gliadin - a substance found in gluten, in genetically susceptible individuals.  The research revealed that many people who were apparently following a gluten-free diet still had some traces of gluten in their diet and that this could explain persistent symptoms in cases of unresponsive CD as well as the associated risk of developing gastrointestinal cancers, lymphomas and type 1 diabetes. Preliminary data indicates that certain types of supplementary enzymes could potentially breakdown immunotoxic gluten fragments and control symptoms and reduce morbidity and mortality in this life-long condition.


So what has this got to do with autism ?

Well there is convincing data that gluten-free diets improve gastrointestinal symptoms and behaviour in autism plus there are anecdotal reports from parents that using protease (protein-digesting) enzymes instead of an exclusion diet have had good results with their autistic children, so there could be a connection.

However, good clinical practice needs to rely on a substantial evidence-base and more research is needed to establish how these immunotoxic gluten fragments affect the brain and body.  The good news is that four large-scale trials are in the pipeline and the more we learn about this in relation to CD, the more we can interpret the data in relation to gluten-sensitive ASD individuals.


 Posted: November, 2013

Source: 'The Use of Supplementary Enzymes in Coeliac Disease - A Literature Review' by Emma Mills  Peadiatric Nutrition Masters module The University of Nottingham

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