Digestive enzymes for food allergy and intolerance

Dr. Devin Houston, the first researcher to develop specialized enzymes for autism, explains the role of enzymes in digestion and the benefit of enzyme supplementation

This article first appeared in Latitudes, the on-line newsletter of the excellent Association for Comprehensive NeuroTherapy, a non-profit American organisation which explores non-drug based, nutritional approaches autism and other neurological conditions.

Because of the amounts and diversity of the foods we consume, and our hectic lifestyle, digestion can be less than optimal. Maldigestion can produce severe bloating and gas, cramping, diarrhea or constipation, and food intolerances. Incomplete digestion of food proteins may be linked to food allergies.

Taking plant enzymes with meals allows digestion to start in the stomach, and helps the pancreatic enzymes do the "finishing" work. More thorough digestion of foodstuffs prevents foods from being fermented in the gut. Food fermentation can cause "bad" bacteria and yeast to proliferate at the expense of "good" intestinal bacteria. More complete digestion of carbohydrates removes a potential food source for bad bacteria.

Another benefit of enzymes is that more nutrition can be derived from the food we eat, and less waste is generated. Regular bowel movements are also a by-product of better digestion.

What about enzymes for children?

Enzymes are fine for children and even infants. Adjust the enzyme dosage based on meal size, not age or body weight, since enzymes are not absorbed from the gut in appreciable amounts. The enzymes can be added to foods or drinks and even baby formula, and will help breakdown the proteins, complex carbohydrates, and fats in food for easier assimilation by the GI tract.

Children with food intolerances often have special dietary needs. Many have intolerances to proteins such as gluten (in wheat) and casein (in dairy). Dietary enzymes can help break down these proteins such that the incomplete peptides, which often are the source of the intolerances, are either not produced or are broken down into inactive compounds. A by-product of better protein digestion is often noted as better mood and disposition in these children. However, it should be noted that enzymes are not a cure or treatment for any medical condition. Enzymes simply support good digestive function, which can help anyone's mood and disposition!

Can enzymes replace the gluten-free/casein-free diet?

Some have wondered whether enzyme products such as Peptizyde or AFP Peptizyde are meant to replace the gluten-free/casein-free diet. After much feedback from parents on the use of these products, the answer now is: “Definitely” for some, and “quite possibly” for many others.

We believe that these enzyme products can produce as good, or even better results, than the GFCF diet. It is not the position of Houston Enzymes to detract from the usefulness of the GFCF diet. We feel that high-quality enzyme products such as AFP Peptizydetm are meant to achieve the same purpose as that of the diet: to reduce the amount of exorphin peptides produced from diet.

Based on well-characterized mechanisms of enzyme actions, one may assume that supplementation of the GFCF diet with AFP Peptizydetm helps to not only reduce or inhibit the production of exorphins from food proteins, but supports digestion, insures complete degradation of food proteins, and increases bioavailability of food proteins.

We are committed to the advancement of effective enzyme products as an eventual proven and safe alternative to the GFCF diet. Due to the established safety and non-toxicity of enzyme-containing supplements, Houston Enzymes is of the opinion that parents have the right to try any and all means to better the lives of their children and their family.

As the wheels of science often turn slowly, parents should have the option to try SAFE alternatives to the GFCF diet. It is our opinion that sufficient historical, anecdotal, and scientific evidence is present from the use of hundreds of enzyme products to justify such experimentation in a prudent and responsible manner, and should be allowed without repercussion or harsh judgment put upon those who try.

Houston Enzymes is neither for nor against the diet, but rather for a resolution of the dietary problems faced by many families.

Do enzymes help destroy viruses in the body?

I know there are some companies vigorously stating that enzyme supplements can help with viral infections. There is very little good evidence that enzymes have an anti-viral effect. I'm sure if you put a virus and protease in a test tube you would see some effect on the virus. But that is far from a real-life scenario.

Viral infections are complex. By the time you've realized you have a virus, the virus itself is on its way out, and what you are experiencing are the aftershocks of your immune system fighting off the virus. A viral particle spends 90% of its time inside a cell, where an oral enzyme cannot get to it. Also, the enzyme must make physical contact with the virus to degrade it. The chances for such an occurrence are minimal.

I feel a much better alternative to fending off viruses is the use of elderberry extracts. Go to pubmed.com and put the keywords “elderberry” and “virus” and see the literature. Or go to sambucol.com and read the info there.

The bottom line is that companies should not be over-hyping what enzymes can accomplish.

Contraindications for Enzyme Supplementation

These enzymes should not be used under the following circumstances: active stomach or duodenal ulcers, severe bowel inflammation (characterized by blood in stools), hemophilia and other bleeding disorders, or within a week of scheduled surgery.

This product may not be appropriate for those with known allergies to Aspergillus enzyme proteins or papaya, though non-specific mold allergies do not necessarily preclude use of fungal enzymes. Consult your medical doctor for further advice, and err on the side of caution. Those with known anaphylactic allergic reactions to fungal proteins should not ingest fungal-derived enzymes.

From the editor of Latitudes:

When researchers suggested that autism was linked to imbalances in the gut, the findings were met with fierce opposition. Yet, as physicians and parents began to correct problems in the digestive tract, positive results were seen. As a result, many forward-thinking professionals and families have embraced dietary changes and the use of digestive enzymes for these children. There is not a one-size-fits all answer, but a trial of enzymes can be a safe and relatively inexpensive approach worth considering.

Our article on digestive enzymes includes material by Devin Houston, PhD, a recognized leader in this advancing field, and founder of Houston Nutraceuticals.

Reactions to food are established as triggers for autism and ADHD. We know from our ACN survey of close to 1800 people that food sensitivities often aggravate tics, and parents continue to report this along with a link to some cases of OCD.

Research shows that children with Tourette syndrome have a higher number of physical complaints than the general population. These physical complaints include digestive related issues: nausea, stomach aches, vomiting, and cramps, among others.

A subset of
LatitudesOnline readers have noted that milk products (these contain casein) and/or gluten in foods can aggravate symptoms. Many of these parents try a gluten-free, casein-free (GF/CF) diet and report success in reducing symptoms of autism, OCD, tics, ADHD or behavioral difficulties. The diet is restrictive and difficult to implement, yet positive results can justify its effort. Below, Dr. Houston suggests that some children who appear to need a GF/CF diet can eat dairy- and gluten-containing foods without reaction when taking the proper enzymes.

Be aware – an adjustment period may be needed when you start taking enzymes, during which time the behaviours or symptoms can increase temporarily. According to Dr. Houston, “The majority get through this period in about a week. In a few instances, the problem behaviors may last for up to 3 months.”

First published in October 2005


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