Gobble up: More turkey dinners may be the key to beating celiac disease


New study shows that tryptophan, a substance found in turkey meat, is especially helpful for people suffering from celiac disease.


HAMILTON, Ontario — For people living with celiac disease, a gluten-free diet is the only way to keep the condition in check. Researchers in Canada say there may be something else patients can add to their grocery list to help stay healthy: turkey. Their study finds tryptophan, a substance found in large quantities in turkey, can help heal the body and allows celiac patients to tolerate a gluten-free diet better.

“Celiac disease is the destruction of the lining of the upper gut, when a person with certain predisposing genes consumes gluten in the diet,” explains Heather Galipeau from McMaster University’s Farncombe Institute in a release. “However, not everyone with celiac genes and eating gluten will develop the disease.”

“The only treatment for celiac disease is a strict adherence to a gluten-free diet, which is difficult to follow, and doesn’t always lead to complete recovery of the gut or symptom resolution,” lead researcher Elena Verdu adds.

Most people are probably more familiar with tryptophan’s famous ability to make people sleepy. While the amino acid can give you a “food coma,” it also plays a major role in several bodily functions. Tryptophan can be broken down by gut bacteria to produce molecules called metabolites. These substances engage with the body’s receptors in the lining of the gut which control inflammation.

One of these key proteins in the gut is the aryl hydrocarbon receptor, or AhR. When these receptors are not fully activated, conditions with chronic intestinal inflammation can develop. The most notable of these illnesses are inflammatory bowel diseases, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease.

The Canadian team examined how the breakdown of tryptophan could alter the impact of celiac disease. The study evaluated three specific groups, those with celiac disease, patients on a gluten-free diet for two years, and people with no health problems.

Other delicious foods contain tryptophan, too

The results show celiac patients have lower bacterial metabolism of tryptophan. Their gut microbiota also could not properly stimulate the AhR paths which protect the gut from inflammation. For people on a long-term gluten-free diet, their metabolism slightly improved.

When examining mice which have the genes for celiac disease, researchers note two strains of lactobacilli, a bacteria which breaks down tryptophan, activates AhR and reduces gluten-related inflammation. This discovery gives the team hope of creating a therapy centered around tryptophan to ease gut inflammation. Researchers believe targeting tryptophan metabolism, along with consuming more probiotics, will also lead to accelerated intestinal healing in celiac patients.

If turkey is not on your menu, tryptophan is also found in chicken, chocolate, bananas, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower.

The study appears in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

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