Would you rather take a pill or take time testing your food before you eat?
Within the next five years, therapeutic advancements will enable the estimated 3 million people in the U.S. with celiac disease to take a pill and protect themselves from the possible allergic reaction from ingesting gluten.
The innovation of a pill to protect people from the ingestion of gluten takes two forms:
-A pill to help with the secondary symptoms of gluten ingestion. There are a few companies racing toward the commercialization of such a pill. Alvine pharmaceuticals is developing a pill that is engineered to degrade gluten when ingested. Alba Therapeutics takes a different approach, developing a pill that addresses the “leaky gut” syndrome by making the gut less permeable by decreasing the space between cells. These pills are currently in clinical trials and expected to be on the market within the next five years. They are targeting symptoms associated with cross-contamination or the accidental ingestion of gluten. They are not meant for people to take for eating large amounts of gluten.
-A pill that allows you to eat large amounts of gluten (like bread and beer). A scientist and inventor in Canada has spent the last 10 years developing a pill that would protect people with celiac disease from the ingestion of gluten. The pill has antibodies that coat the gluten when ingested, preventing the absorption of gluten by the small intestine.
As you may know, we are developing a sensor enabling people to test their food for allergens and food adulterants, beginning with gluten. The sensor, Nima, would allow you to take a sample of food from your plate and know if there is at least 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten in the sample within a few minutes.
With these range of tools coming to market in the next few years, we were curious as to which method would be preferred by folks who avoid gluten. We did a quick survey through our social media channels in the celiac and gluten-free community to better understand their needs.
When asked which of these three tools they would use, out of 62 respondents:
-82 percent would use a device that tests their food for gluten before they eat
-48 percent would take a pill before they eat that coats the gluten protein so they can eat anything with gluten in it
-21 percent would take a pill after they eat that helps relieve secondary symptoms of gluten exposure
Now, our fans on social media might be biased and preferential to our device, but what was impactful for us was learning that a majority of respondents would only use tools that pre-empted eating. Seventy-three percent would use either a device to test food before eating, taking a pill before eating or both. People are looking for extra precautions before eating, instead of just dealing with the results of hidden ingredients. I think even this small poll shows that people will want to use both preventative methods – avoidance of gluten through the use of Nima and proactive measures of taking the pill to still stay safe if gluten snuck in – to avoid triggering a reaction.
We were also surprised that only 6 percent of respondents would only use the pill that essentially gives them a free-for-all at the buffet line, and more than half of respondents wouldn’t use the pill at all. No more triple-checking menus and long conversations with waitstaff. No more stress of finding a restaurant you can eat at with others. Sounds like a dream.
But, some of the comments from respondents explained that they were uneasy taking a pill, not knowing if it would help their unique level of sensitivity, or that they still just preferred knowing what was in the food they were going to eat. People who suffer health repercussions from the accidental ingestion of gluten often view gluten as poison. To be able to eat gluten freely without the fear of getting sick seems somewhat out of reach.
What we gleaned from these findings is that the pills developed to help with the accidental ingestion of gluten are another tool in your toolbox for avoiding gluten when eating in unfamiliar environments. These are not meant to change your behavior but rather give you a better layer of protection to maintain a healthy gut.
Whether it’s a pill or food sensor, any solution will need to earn the trust of consumers. These new technologies enable consumers to eat more freely and confidently when avoiding gluten, but not without limitations. It’s an exciting era for gluten-free consumers, and in the next few years there will be an array of solutions available to better enjoy mealtime with more confidence and stay healthy and happy.