Researchers able to reduce gluten toxicity

20 Jun 2019

A team of researchers from Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM) and Universidade de Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro (UTAD) along with other research institutions have developed a method that will allow the toxicity of gluten to be reduced for people who suffer from celiac disease.

Celiac disease is a common intestinal pathology in our society, the researchers note, and a strict gluten-free diet is the only therapy available so far. However, they say, this situation may change.

Researchers able to reduce gluten toxicity

An international team of researchers, in which UPM and UTAD researchers are involved, has unveiled that the molecular reorganization of gluten proteins using natural polysaccharides can reduce its capacity to trigger an immune response in celiac disease.

The results show a wheat-based functional product can be obtained for celiac patients, opening in this way a new perspective concerning the quest for alternatives to gluten-exclusion diet.

Gluten is a protein complex found in common wheat grains and other cereals, such as rye, spelt or barley. Some protein fragments trigger an immune reaction in people affected by celiac disease, altering the structure and function of intestinal epithelial cells.

Today, people with celiac disease must follow a restrictive diet, avoiding any food containing gluten. Sticking to this diet takes a lot of effort and some people cannot follow it for long periods of time, the researchers note.

Gluten-free products have emerged with growing concern associated with gluten-related intolerances and are characterized by a range of food products that try to mimic the corresponding traditional foods by replacing gluten with other ingredients such as polysaccharides and proteins of various origin in order to provide structure to the dough and a suitable texture.

Nevertheless, the cost of a gluten-free diet can be much higher than a diet without restrictions, the researchers say, that is often unbalanced in terms of nutritional value and gluten-free products have also some technological limitations, being characterized by poor textural properties.

In an attempt to overcome the gluten-free diet requirement, some approaches have been conducted aiming at the detoxification of gluten proteins.

The method devised by the research that includes the use of natural polysaccharides such as chitosan, consists of the reorganization of gluten proteins that trigger a decrease in digestibility and, consequently, in the release of proteins and toxic peptides for celiac patients.

Marta Rodríguez-Quijano, a UPM researcher involved in this study, said: “We do not remove the gluten proteins, we modify them minimally to avoid the toxicity gluten for these people”.

Researchers had verified in a previous study that gluten detoxification does not affect the flour used in food such as bread. Products maintain their baking, visual and textural sensory attributes.

Rodríguez-Quijano said: “we believe this research project will allow the development of wheat-based products with sensory, nutritional and technological properties similar to traditional products, but safe for people suffering from celiac disease.”

Due to the global prevalence of celiac disease and the lack of treatment for it, the researchers believe this study could represent a paradigm shift by developing an alternative to gluten free-products.