Is the Food Additive Microbial Transglutaminase Responsible for Your Celiac Disease?

food additives and celiac disease

There’s a popular food additive in the U.S. that has long been used in many products: microbial transglutaminase. According to IFL Science, “Transglutaminase is a bacterial enzyme often added to food during manufacturing. You can find it in a lot of processed food, from dairy and meat to baked goods.”

You can also find a natural version of it in your own body. Our bodies manufacture transglutaminase–a bacterial enzyme needed for blood clotting and other processes.

Microbial transglutaminase, also known by its brand name, “Activa,” is a little different from the naturally occurring kind in your body. Its manufacturing process cultivates bacteria from various sources like animal blood and plant extracts.

The FDA has declared it safe, and food producers have to list it as an ingredient. But they don’t have to list which kind they’ve used, or what the source was. When you check your food labels, look for either transglutaminase or Activa.

Is it a surprise to hear this is a common food additive in the U.S.? You might be even more surprised, maybe a little shocked, to hear that its common nickname is “meat glue.”

It got this nickname because the function of transglutaminase is to bind proteins together. So food manufacturers use it for things like binding meat scraps or dairy together to create single pieces of meat. Such as steaks, chicken nuggets, imitation crab meat, sausages, cheese, and yogurt.

Microbial Transglutaminase and Celiac Disease

If you have celiac disease, when you consume gluten, it triggers an autoimmune response in your body that causes an attack on your gut.

We still don’t fully understand the causes of celiac disease. However, according to recent research reported in Frontiers in Pediatrics, there is scientific evidence linking microbial transglutaminase, aka Activa, to an increased risk of celiac disease.

According to Science Daily, the naturally occurring transglutaminase your body produces isn’t the same as the manufactured kind. They write, “Our own transglutaminase has a different structure to the microbial sort, which allows its activity to be tightly controlled.” But the body can’t process microbial transglutaminase in the same manner. Which could be the link between it and celiac disease.

The researchers who worked on the studies that show this link are calling for transparency and better labeling of foods that use this popular additive.

Switzerland has even gone so far as to require all products that use it to be labeled unsuitable for people with celiac disease. The European Union has gone even farther than that–with a ban on transglutaminase as a food additive there.

Even though it is still considered a “safe” food additive in the U.S., it’s probably a good idea to start keeping track of whether the foods you eat that include microbial transglutaminase. Regardless of whether you are at risk for celiac disease.

This will be no surprise to regular readers of my blog. This is another example of the fact that one of the best roads to good health is one that heads toward whole, unprocessed, fresh food.

As I’ve written before, it’s shocking how food additives get approval. You should keep a skeptical eye on all of them. Choose organic foods whenever possible and stay vigilant about reading food labels!


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