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Digesting bread and pasta can release biologically active molecules

15 July 2015

Biologically active molecules released by digesting bread and pasta can survive digestion and potentially pass through the gut lining, according to new research from the University of Milan published in the Journal of Food Research International, providing new information for research into gluten sensitivity. 

There is strong interest in the potential health impacts of wheat-based foods in human nutrition and, in this regard, much attention has been paid to the physiological and pathological role of gluten proteins and peptides derived therefrom. The peptides produced during digestion are involved in causing gluten intolerance and sensitivity, which has led to bread and pasta becoming the focus of many popular diets. An estimated 1% of the population suffers from celiac disease or wheat allergy. Some peptides produced during gluten digestion include exorphins, which have also been found in the spinal fluid of people with schizophrenia and autism, and are thought to worsen the symptoms of these neurological diseases. Until now there has been no evidence to show that these molecules were produced during digestion of real foods as compared to pure gluten. 

The new research reveals that two of these peptide molecules – called exorphins A5 and C5 – are released during digestion of real bread and pasta, and that they can survive digestion and pass through an in vitro model of the intestinal lining. For the study, the researchers bought two kinds of sliced bread and four kinds of dried spaghetti to digest. They cooked the spaghetti and ‘digested’ each sample using a simulated digestion system in the lab. The levels of the two peptides following digestion were quite different, with twice as much C5 being produced compared to A5; up to 1 mg of C5 was produced from the in vitro digestion of a single serving size of pasta. The researchers now plan to investigate what happens to the peptides as they are transported through the digestive system, from the intestine into the blood.

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