Coming Soon, Maybe: Drugs to Treat Gluten Sensitivity

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Photo: Bettman/Corbis

I was diagnosed with Celiac disease as a baby, so there are a ton of foods that I've missed out on: fried chicken, Oreo cookies, and a good bechamel sauce are all difficult to replicate with rice flour and sticky, stretchy tapioca starch. And (especially as a kid) I've endured the agony of accidental gluten ingestion. Around 30 minutes after consuming something containing gluten, I vomit athletically. 

As the gluten-free diet trend crests its mighty wave, and Celiac disease (the autoimmune syndrome that affects digestion of the grain protein) becomes a more common diagnosis, pharmaceutical companies are working hard to develop a pill as a first line of defense against symptoms of accidental ingestion — like headaches, bloating, abdominal pain, joint pain, diarrhea, and vomiting.

This is promising news for those with a genuine diagnosis, but it doesn't mean we're done with everyone's favorite diet excuse du jour just yet.

"Most of the drugs in development would not eliminate the need for a gluten-free diet, but would help alleviate symptoms when some gluten does leak into food," writes Andrew Pollack at the New York Times. (Dietary supplements do already exist, pills containing enzyme blends that claim to normalize the inflammatory response to the gluten peptide; but as dietary supplements, they lack FDA approval, and are not intended to combat the symptoms of Celiac disease.)

So, basically, this will be the EpiPen of gluten intolerance. I won't be trying my first Oreo anytime soon — but if I accidentally slurp some soup thickened with flour, I may at least be able to avoid vomiting on my dining companions.