Is It Gluten-Free? With This Pill, No Need to Ask

Pill may allow celiac disease patients to digest foods containing gluten


Patients with celiac disease may soon be able to have their cake and eat it too.

A new pill created by researchers at the University of Alberta in Canada may make it possible for patients with celiac disease to enjoy the wide variety of foods they normally have to shun.

"This is not treating celiac disease or curing celiac disease," said Hoon Sunwoo, PhD, an associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences, in an interview with CBC News Edmonton. "It's just to try to help them improve their quality of life so when they want to socialize with peers or friends."

Celiac disease is a digestive and autoimmune disorder that results in damage to the lining of the small intestine when foods with gluten are eaten. This damage may make it hard for the body to absorb nutrients, especially fat, calcium and iron.

Because of this, patients with celiac disease must be selective with their diets. In a world full of foods with gluten, this can make social gatherings difficult for patients with celiac disease.

Gluten is a protein and binding agent found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale (a grain similar to wheat).

Dr. Sunwoo's pill uses egg yolk antibodies to coat the gluten and allow it to pass from the body without doing any damage.

The pill can be taken five minutes before a meal and be effective for one to two hours.

“This supplement binds with gluten in the stomach and help to neutralize it, therefore providing defense to the small intestine, limiting the damage [it] causes,” Dr. Sunwoo said, in a press release. “It is our hope that this supplement will improve the quality of life for those who have celiac disease and gluten intolerance.”

Despite these benefits, Dr. Sunwoo advises those with celiac disease to not completely alter their gluten-free diets.

If left untreated, celiac disease can lead to type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, infertility, neurological issues and intestinal cancer, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation.

Dr. Sunwoo, who has been working on this project for 10 years, was inspired by a friend who has the condition.

"We haven't had any entertaining with beers," Dr. Sunwoo told CBS News Edmonton. "So that's why I develop this pill — for my friend."

According to Dr. Sunwoo and team, further trials of the pill will begin sometime in the next year. The pill could be available to the public within three years.

The press release was published July 15 on the University of Alberta website.