By Van Waffle
Digestive enzymes of the fly-eating pitcher plant show promise as a treatment for celiac disease. They can break down gluten proteins into smaller, non-damaging particles, as revealed in an international study by scientists in Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic and France.
Researchers fed gluten treated with normal digestive enzymes to gluten-sensitive mice. Their intestinal lining became inflamed. However, when the gluten was also treated with pitcher plant enzymes, no inflammation occurred.
Enzyme therapies are not new. Other digestive aids exist on the market. However, medical research has found them ineffective at protecting celiac disease patients against the damage caused by gluten. The pitcher plant enzymes distinguish themselves by performing well at low concentrations: one part enzyme to 12,000 parts gluten. This would allow a small yet effective amount to be consumed along with any meal.
The effect depends on two different enzymes working together. This study identifies a formerly unknown catalyst called neprosin, which collaborates with another enzyme, nepenthesin.
Clinical studies will be needed to show whether their anti-inflammatory action against gluten can translate to humans. If so, this combination of enzymes could potentially assist or even replace a gluten-free diet in treating celiac disease.
It took 100 plants with about 1,000 individual pitchers six months to produce 1.3 gallons of digestive fluid for this study.
Rey M, Yang M, Lee L, Zhang Y, Sheff JG, Sensen CW, Mrazek H, Halada P, Man P, McCarville JL, Verdu EF and Schriemer DC, “Addressing proteolytic efficiency in enzymatic degradation therapy for celiac disease,” Scientific Reports, Aug 2 2016, doi:10.1038/srep30980.