Roaming through the aisles of the grocery store, we try to make good choices for our health. We stop and read labels before putting products into the shopping cart. We want our food to be delicious, but we also want it to be nutrient dense and not give us digestive problems.

With so much buzz about the “dangers” of gluten, gluten-free products have become the “healthier” option, even if we don’t have Coeliac disease. But is this really true or is it just hype?

Of course, gluten needs to be eliminated for those with Coeliac, however, what about the rest of us? Do we need to cut out gluten, too?

What Is the Difference Between Coeliac Disease and Gluten Intolerance?

The first thing to understand is the difference between Coeliac disease and gluten intolerance.

  • Coeliac is an autoimmune disease, meaning there is an immune response to eating gluten. Akin to being allergic to peanuts or bee stings, the body’s response to eating gluten can be life-threatening for those with Coeliac. Therefore, enzyme supplements are not recommended for these individuals. Instead, people with Coeliac need to be under a physician’s care and avoid gluten at all costs.
  • Gluten intolerance is a fermentation response to eating gluten. Akin to being intolerant to lactose, the bacteria in the large intestine ferments the undigested components of gluten, causing gas, bloating and discomfort. This is where digestive enzymes can help.

What Is Gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat and the different forms of wheat, as well as barley, bulgar, rye and seitan. Also known as a gluten sensitivity, gluten intolerance is the body’s inability to completely break down the gluten protein in our food, causing digestive issues.

Common foods that regularly contain gluten are:

  • breads
  • pastas
  • crackers
  • cereals
  • beer
  • flavourings, seasonings and spice mixes
  • barley malt and malt vinegar
  • seitan (wheat gluten used as a meat substitute)

Does Everyone Have Some Level of Gluten Intolerance?

Unfortunately, the answer is “yes.” Gluten gets partially broken down by stomach acid, but there are certain components of gluten that cannot be completely digested by the enzymes our bodies produce naturally—namely, the peptides glutamine and proline.

Since glutamine and proline are not broken down, they are too large to be absorbed in the small intestine, and they get stuck in the large intestine where they are fed upon by bacteria, leading to fermentation, which causes a variety of symptoms.

Signs and symptoms linked to gluten intolerance include occasional:

  • Gas and bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation or diarrhoea
  • Headaches
  • Brain fog or fatigue
  • Skin problems

Gluten intolerance symptoms can range from mild to severe from one individual to the next.

For most people, these peptides go into the large intestine and may cause a bit of discomfort, but then pass through to elimination without much distress. The people in this category are generally not affected by their gluten intolerance.

For others with a higher gluten intolerance, however, there is a greater interaction with the bacteria in the gut microbiome, which causes more fermentation and hence more of these distressing symptoms. Those with severe symptoms may have non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, or NCGS.

There is a spectrum of gluten intolerance and where you are on this spectrum is influenced by the health of your microbiome and how gut bacteria react to the undigested gluten.

“The research is still out as to why some get such a strong reaction to gluten and others don’t,” says Dr. Michael Murray, Chief Science Officer at Enzymedica. “But the health of the microbiome is a key area that researchers are looking at. With improved health of the microbiome, gluten intolerance symptoms should also improve.”

Hidden Gluten and Cross-Contamination

If our gluten intolerance is causing symptoms that are negatively impacting our life, we have two choices: cut out gluten from our diet or reduce gluten intake and supplement with an enzyme.

Option 1: Cutting Out Gluten

Avoiding gluten altogether poses additional challenges in that there are sources of hidden gluten in just about every aisle of the supermarket. There are a lot of foods that surprisingly contain gluten. Gluten is not listed on food labels, so even if you think you’re eating gluten-free, you may have a grocery cart full of gluten-containing foods.

Hidden gluten may show up as an ingredient in:

  • Broths, stocks, bouillon cubes
  • Artificial coffee creamer
  • Candy, chewing gum
  • Cold cuts, imitation seafood
  • Flavoured teas
  • Flavoured rice
  • Fish sticks, hot dogs, French fries, chips
  • Instant coffee and other instant hot drinks
  • Salad dressings
  • Veggie burgers (if not specified gluten-free)
  • Teriyaki and soy sauce
  • Condiments (mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard)
  • Tomato sauce, gravy
  • Roasted nuts
  • Vegetable cooking spray
  • Vodka, wine coolers

The second challenge with avoiding gluten is the potential for cross-contamination. At restaurants, even if we order the gluten-free option on the menu, there is a high likelihood that these meals are being prepared on the same surface or with the same pots and pans as meals that contain gluten.

Option 2: Enzyme Supplements

Taking an enzyme supplement to help digest gluten can help eliminate digestive distress.* Even if we are doing our best to avoid gluten, an enzyme supplement can provide insurance in case we unknowingly consume gluten hidden in our food or through cross-contamination.

How Can Enzymes Help Those With Gluten Intolerance?

There are a few enzymes on the market that specifically break down gluten, but the most well-known is Dipeptidyl Peptidase IV, or DPP-IV.

DPP-IV is a protease (protein-digesting enzyme) that helps break down the ends of gluten molecules so that they become small enough for the body to absorb. An enzyme blend containing DPP-IV along with other enzymes to digest food can be a highly beneficial supplement for those who cannot avoid gluten.

“Everyone is somewhat gluten intolerant. A lot of people may not notice it, but it’s a challenge for everyone to some extent,” says Dr. Murray. “Digestive enzymes are not meant to replace a gluten-free diet for those with Coeliac, but it can play a big part in an overall protocol for those with gluten intolerance.”

So the next time you’re in the supermarket, you can shop with more ease. Taking an enzyme supplement takes the stress out of your shopping decisions because if there are traces of gluten in your favourite foods, the enzymes have got you covered.


Enzymedica is a Florida based company that offers the highest-quality enzyme products possible. Today, as one of the global leaders in the industry, Enzymedica strives to ensure that their products are clean, sustainable and highly effective. Find out more about Enzymedica.

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