For people with celiac disease, maintaining a strict gluten-free diet can be extremely challenging. And even when making vigilant food choices, there’s no guarantee that the symptoms (such as painful abdominal bloating) will subside.

Good news: New research shows that a common amino acid, combined with probiotics, may help celiac sufferers improve their response to a gluten-free diet while also helping intestinal healing. Bonus: The amino acid, tryptophan, can be found in your favorite turkey meal.

Celiac disease develops when the small intestine triggers an exaggerated immune response to the presence of gluten, a protein found in the grains wheat, barley and rye. Eventually, the lining of the small intestine becomes damaged, making it harder for the body to absorb critical nutrients from food.

Gut damage from celiac disease is also usually accompanied by an impaired ability to stimulate protective receptors in the gut lining, such as AhR, the aryl hydrocarbon receptor. AhR is important in controlling inflammation in the gut.

When the AhR receptor does not function properly, celiac patients can struggle with intestinal healing even after all gluten is removed from the diet. Tryptophan can potentially combat this by helping to produce metabolites that signal to receptors like AhR to start controlling inflammation and better protect the gut barrier.

The study: A team of international researchers at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, looked at how effectively tryptophan could help with celiac through stimulation of AhR. Their study was published in Science Translational Medicine. To test tryptophan’s efficacy in managing celiac disease, the researchers observed the metabolism of tryptophan across three groups of people—those with active celiac disease, celiac patients two years into a gluten-free diet and healthy people with no celiac symptoms.

Results: The patients with active celiac had trouble breaking down the tryptophan necessary to activate AhR, although those who had been on a gluten-free diet had a somewhat improved response. However, according to additional testing on mice with genes predisposed to celiac disease, researchers were able to jumpstart the metabolism of tryptophan by introducing the probiotic lactobacilli, successfully triggering the AhR pathway response.

While further research is needed to confirm study results, the researchers believe these findings offer hope for a potential therapy combining tryptophan and probiotics to manage celiac disease.

Source: Study titled “Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor Ligand Production by the Gut Microbiota Is Decreased in Celiac Disease Leading to Intestinal Inflammation,” by researchers at McMaster University, Ontario, Canada, published in Science Translational Medicine.