Saliva Solution

Freedom from gluten-free? If researcher Eva Helmerhorst has her way.

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Last year, the sales of gluten-free products hit $4.2 billion and they’re expected to top $6.1 billion by 2018, the Boston Globe reported this summer. But if Eva Helmerhorst’s research keeps going the way it has, she may soon cut into those sales.

While studying human saliva, the associate professor of molecular and cell biology discovered a handful of enzymes that can cleave, or digest, gluten, which is found primarily in wheat, rye, and barley. Great news for the estimated three million people who suffer from celiac disease and face nutritional deficiencies and osteoporosis in addition to lymphoma from chronic intestinal damage. Currently, their only solution is avoidance.

“A gluten-free diet, even though it works, is difficult to maintain and gluten-free products are expensive,” Helmerhorst says. “If an enzyme could be taken as a dietary supplement, that could be very beneficial. I definitely like science where there is a clear clinical aspect. Everybody knows somebody with celiac disease.”