Will A Pill Made of Egg Yolks Allow You to Eat Gluten?

Will an egg yolk-based pill let you eat gluten?. Andrew Unangst/Getty Images

The headlines couldn't be more filled with hype:

"Celiac Disease Diet: New Supplement May Soon Replace Gluten-Free Food"

"Could EGGS Cure Gluten Intolerance? Scientists Claim Yolk Could Provide the Antidote for Celiacs Who Want To Enjoy Some Cake and a Few Beers"

and my own personal favorite:

"New Pill Will Let People with Celiac Disease Eat Gluten-Filled Meals of Their Dreams!"

The articles all involve an announcement from the University of Alberta involving a researcher who's developing a natural anti-gluten supplement made from the yolks of chicken eggs.

This supplement — when taken immediately before a gluten-containing meal — is intended to prevent your body from absorbing gliadin, a component of the gluten molecule.

This sounds great ... in theory. But unfortunately for those of us who live with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity, the reality doesn't yet match up to the hype.

What Is This Pill, Anyway?

Various drugs for celiac disease are in development that potentially could neutralize the gluten molecule before it reaches the small intestine. This latest product, developed by Hoon Sunwoo, Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of Alberta, was created from antibodies found in egg yolks.

"The new supplement comes in the form of capsules containing dried egg yolk powder which is enriched with antibodies that can neutralize gluten," Sunwoo told me. "As it is a natural health product, there are no negative side effects.

The only people that this product is not suitable for are people with an allergy to egg protein."

The egg yolk and antibodies are intended to bind with gluten in the stomach, thereby preventing the gluten molecules from reaching the small intestine in a form that can cause damage, Sunwoo said.

Supplement Hasn't Finished Testing

So far, the product sounds interesting.

But the internet headlines have gotten way ahead of themselves: the researchers haven't even begun testing the egg yolk supplement to see if it can prevent symptoms from gluten exposure.

Sunwoo said he and his colleagues have completed Phase 1 testing, which looks at whether their product is safe for humans to consume. It is safe, he said (unless you're allergic to eggs). Next up is Phase 2 testing, which considers whether the product actually works as it is intended to work.

"The supplement is able to reduce the amount of gluten that people experience when they drink beer or eat any foods which contain gluten," Sunwoo said. "Different people show different levels of sensitivity and different foods and drinks contain different amounts of gluten. Further testing is required to figure out if there is a limit to the amount of gluten that the supplement can neutralize."

In other words, there's no evidence so far that taking this pill will let you consume a regular wheat pizza and a gluten-filled beer with no repercussions. There just hasn't been enough testing yet. 

So What's Next for the Egg Yolk Pill?

Sunwoo currently is designing a clinical trial to test the pill's effectiveness. That trial, which must be approved by Health Canada, should begin recruiting people to participate beginning in early 2016.

If the trial is successful, the egg yolk pill (which Sunwoo hasn't yet named) could be available in Canada before the end of 2017, he said. Testing and approval in the U.S. and Europe could follow. Sunwoo and his research partner, Jeong Sim, a retired professor at the University of Alberta, have partnered with Canadian company IgY Immune Technologies & Life Sciences Inc. and London-based Vetanda Group Ltd. to bring the product to market.

Because it is a supplement, Sunwoo intends the product to be sold over-the-counter, not by prescription. This could speed its availability if further testing shows it does work.

Will the egg yolk supplement live up to the advance hype and let us all go out for gluten-filled pizza and beer? That's impossible to know right now. But it's important to note that other over-the-counter supplements claiming to mitigate the effects of gluten ingestion don't actually work all that well.

So please don't expect a miracle (despite the hyped headlines). Even the prescription drugs in development to treat celiac disease wouldn't allow you to eat massive amounts of gluten-filled food with impunity; instead, they're designed to protect you against moderate gluten cross-contamination, like the kind you might experience at a restaurant that sliced your gluten-free sandwich on a cutting board also used for wheat bread sandwiches.

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