- What are they?
- How do they work?
- Are they dangerous?
- How can they help me?
- How can they help my child with autism?
Since digestive enzymes are also the first supplement my entire family started taking, I figured this was the perfect 'first' topic for my blog. I hope you all agree.
I'm not a scientist, nor an educator. Nevertheless, I will do my best explaining what digestive enzymes are, how they function within our bodies, and why they're important for all of us. A great deal of this information will be gathered from the website, EnzymeStuff, where you can find everything you want to know about enzymes and more.
What Are Digestive Enzymes and Where Do They Come From?
Enzymes are proteins, made up of amino acids, and are produced by all living organisms. According to enzymestuff.com, "Enzymes are catalysts that make many essential biochemical reactions ‘happen’ and are not used up or chemically altered in the process. As a catalyst, they help a chemical reaction take place quickly and efficiently. Some reactions would either happen very slowly or not occur at all without enzymes. So a little bit of enzyme can effect a big change.
Enzymes exist in all raw food, including meat. An example, green bananas have amylase, an enzyme that breaks down starch to glucose. In a number of days, the amylase converts the raw starch of the banana to sugar, which is why darkened bananas are so much sweeter tasting. Kiwis have an abundance of a protease known as actinidin, which is why you cannot make jello with fresh kiwis. The protease degrades gelatin protein such that it cannot ‘harden’ or set.
Cooking or other types of processing destroys enzyme activity. This is the basis for ‘canning’ of vegetables – the heat destroys the enzymes and this preserves the food. Food enzymes can survive the pH of the stomach (about 4.5 to 5.5) for some time and so can contribute to the digestion of food while in the stomach. Animals, including humans, produce the enzymes they need from amino acids. The more raw food you eat, the less digestive enzymes your body needs to produce (not that eating raw meat is recommended due to risk of bacterial contamination). You can also take enzyme supplements, which come from animals, plants or microorganisms. Your body may recycle digestive enzymes from any source until they wear out. Enzymes in circulation perform many other tasks that assist in restoring and maintaining good health. Eventually, when these enzymes wear out, other enzymes break them down and the body uses the component amino acids for other purposes. They may also be excreted."
How Do Enzymes Work?
Again, according to enzymestuff (because I really feel it's the premier website for digestive enzyme information), "Each type of enzyme has a special function and works in a particular way. Enzymes are essential to every aspect of life and carry out all the daily biochemical functions. They are the basic elements that activate all functions in the body, facilitate reactions that build compounds from the body’s raw materials, transport elements throughout the body, break down substances, and eliminate many unwanted chemicals in the body.
Enzymes are chemicals that facilitate other chemical reactions. Food itself is essentially just a mixture of chemicals that are broken down by enzymes. The released nutrients are the raw materials. Vitamins and other nutrients cannot work in the body by themselves. They require enzymes to transport them throughout the body and make use of them. Enzymes unlock the benefits of vitamins, minerals, proteins, and hormones and put them to work in the body. Enzymes are the workers and assist many biological, chemical, and metabolic reactions, but are not ‘alive’ themselves."
Are Digestive Enzymes Dangerous?
Not in the least. They're not addictive. They're not going to digest your mouth, esophagus, or stomach (if that were the case, the enzymes your body naturally produces would already have eaten you up). Your pancreas will NOT stop functioning if you take enzymes long-term. In fact, taking enzymes actually increase your pancreas' productivity by reducing it's workload.
Digestive enzymes have been around for a LONG time. Their use dates back thousands of years. They're more thoroughly studied then any medicine on the market today. There's no upper limit on dosing...meaning you can safely take enzymes with no worries of toxicity, even children. Dosing isn't based on age or weight, but rather the amount and types of food one eats.
Since we're on the dosage topic, Doug and I started with one capsule per each meal or snack eaten during the day. The kids were introduced more slowly and were only given partial capsules mixed in their juice with meals. We've now increased to two capsules with each meal, plus two before bed to help clean out toxins from our bloodstream. The kids still take just one enzyme per meal, as they tend eat less.
It's best to take enzymes a few minutes before you start eating your meal. If you forget, take them as soon as you remember, even if it's during the meal.
If your child is unable to swallow a capsule, the capsules can be opened and the contents poured into foods or liquids. We primarily use liquids as the mode of enzyme ingestion for our children. We tried hiding the enzymes in food initially, but the enzymes would break down the food proteins and liquefy everything. They definitely do their job! We tried pudding, yogurt, ketchup, sweet n' sour sauce...they were all turned to mush within minutes. A couple food items which do seem to more readily withstand the enzyme attack are marinara sauce and applesauce.
Finally, if you or your child takes an enzyme and then unexpectedly have no opportunity to eat, don't panic. Enzymes are completely safe, full stomach or not.
How Can Digestive Enzymes Help Me?
Proper and complete digestion is essential for good health. Digestive enzymes, used properly, can provide a substantial benefit to most everyone, especially those consuming a great deal of cooked or processed food. Enzymes may ease bloating, gas and heaviness with meals.
Enzymes run every function in our entire body. Digestive enzymes breakdown the food we eat so it can be used as a source of nutrients and a source of energy. Every cell relies on the raw materials provided to the body by digestive enzymes. If you do not have enough enzymes you can develop a vast myriad of illnesses, including cancer. All the food and nutritional supplements you consume will not do any good if they are not sufficiently broken down and absorbed by the body.
How Can Digestive Enzymes Help My Child With Autism?
Because it is well-known many autistic children have severe bowel and elimination issues (please recall Parker's daily bouts with both diarrhea and constipation, as well as the stinky, clay-like stools he was having), it seems quite obvious enzymes can be beneficial to this subset of children. Many autistic kids have leaky-gut syndrome, inflammation of the bowel lining, and yeast issues, all of which contribute to not only their physical well-being, but their mental and emotional well-being as well.
Even if your child is already on an elimination diet (Parker, for instance, is using the gluten and casein free diet for wellness), enzymes can still assist with breakdown, absorption, and elimination. We know food sensitivities also influence behaviors, particularly with autism and AD[H]D, which can then be traced to insufficiently broken down food proteins binding to receptors in the brain and causing various behavioral issues. Can enzymes help?
The answer is yes.
Enzymes can help behaviorally as well. We saw a noticeable difference with Parker after only a week of enzyme therapy, mainly, an awareness of his surroundings we hadn't noticed prior.
Many parents have asked me if they can use enzymes to replace elimination diets. After more research and some soul searching, here's my feelings on this topic, as I considered this option myself at one point:
1. Dr. Pangborn, an expert in autism biochemistry, does not
consider enzymes to be sufficient in protecting the body against
allergens. Enzymes have to match food particles 1:1 in order to digest those
molecules. Anything not matched gets through...just like a food infraction
on an exclusion diet.
2. Enzymes have no effect on other additives in foods
which can harm our kids, such as antibiotics, hormones, preservatives, MSG,
dyes, colors, and artificial sweeteners. By doing exclusion diets, we're
not only eliminating the offending foods, we're also eliminating other offending
In conclusion, I believe an exclusion diet which includes enzyme therapy is perhaps the best route for children on the autism spectrum. We're eliminating the foods which cause a skewed immune response but have back-up protection (the enzymes), if those foods somehow accidentally get through.
Where Can I Find Digestive Enzymes?
This is another issue I researched with great zeal. If we were going to take digestive enzymes, I wasn't going to buy any old crap in a jar. What I found were three very reputable on-line distributors: Kirkman Labs, Houston Nutraceuticals, and Enzymedica. Klaire Labs is also excellent, and probably produces the most hypoallergenic of the enzymes, but they're not available for purchase on-line. I believe you have to call the company to place an order and might even need a doctor's prescription. I'm not certain. Please forgive my ignorance. If any of you try and order from Klair Labs, please fill me in on the outcome.
Kirkman's sell the enzyme product my family uses. We've taken this particular enzyme from the beginning and have never had a single issue.
This is what we use:
This is the other incredibly popular enzyme Kirkman sells:
Enzym-Complete/DPP-IV w/ Isogest
The only difference between the two of these is the enzyme with Isogest offers a more complete carbohydrate breakdown. When I placed my first order, I debated between the two and finally decided to see how we did without the Isogest. If we weren't getting complete results, I'd switch. Luckily, we did see fantastic results from the original Enzym-Complete and I saw no reason to pay the extra money for the fancier version. I will say though, most folks prefer the Isogest edition.
Both of these choices are 'complete' enzymes. This means they contain enzymes which will break down all food groups...carbs, starches, proteins, gluten, dairy, etc.
When selecting an enzyme, always make sure it contains DPP-IV. DPP-IV is a protein that has multiple functions in the body. It is known by different names depending on where it is found. When DPP-IV is on the surface of the T-cell (lymphocyte), it is called CD26 and supports immune function. When this enzyme is found on and embedded on the epithelial brush border mucosal membrane of the intestinal tract lining, it is known as DPP-IV.
The importance of DPP-IV is that it has primary function in breaking down casein and side chain activity in breaking down gluten. Thus, the use of a DPP-IV containing enzyme will support the digestion of casein-containing milk products as well as the protein in gluten-containing grains.
Both of these enzymes are also free of sugar, soy, wheat, casein, gluten, milk, preservatives, yeast, gelatin, flavorings, or colorings. This becomes an issue with some of the cheaper brands you might find in a grocery store or a local Wal-Mart. Often times their products are cheaper, simply because you're buying more fillers than you are enzyme.
Many parents I talk to prefer Houston's enzymes. There are four very popular choices from this distributor. We have tried one of these, the AFP Peptizyde, but Parker actually reacted negatively to it on a couple of occasions. We suspected it was the Aspergillus it contained, a fungal protein. I knew Parker had yeast issues, but yeast wasn't listed as an ingredient on the bottle. However, after further digging, I found this:
This product may not be appropriate for those with known allergies to
Aspergillus enzyme proteins, 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
I will say though...most kids/adults take this with no issues whatsoever. Doug and I finished that bottle off since Parker couldn't tolerate them and neither of us had any issues at all.
AFP Peptizyde--this enzyme breaks down gluten and casein.
Zyme Prime--this enzyme breaks down carbs and fats
No-Fenol--this enzyme breaks down fruits, veggies, and phenols
So many parents were buying all three options for their children, Houston's finally offered a 3 in 1 enzyme called TriEnza.
TriEnza--the culmination of Peptizyde, Zyme Prime, and No-Fenol. This is similar to Kirkman's Enzym-Complete option. TriEnza is a very popular choice among the autism crowds.
This company deals ONLY in digestive enzymes. They have enzymes for nearly every conceivable health issue. I'll discuss only the most popular selections.
Digest Gold--Enzymedica's version of the 'complete' enzyme.
GlutenEase--We have some of this in our cupboard as I type this. I keep this around for days when it's suspected Parker may have had a dietary infraction. It works quite well.
Kids Digest--The kids version of Digest Gold. I've never tried this, so I can't really comment.
Enzymedica also offers therapeutic enzymes as well...everything from enzymes which help control viruses, to candida (yeast), to mucous. However, since I'm primarily discussing digestion today, we'll stick with those enzymes which aid digestion.
I would happily recommend any of the above enzymes for you or your child's use. The companies are reputable and the product is pure.
In conclusion, I've often heard people say, "Death begins in the colon." I believe this to be true, but only if we choose not to care for our gastrointestinal system. Did you know that 80% of your immune system lies in your gastrointestinal tract?
That should give you one more reason to want to keep your bowels healthy. This isn't a concern just for the elderly. Both of my children have gut issues and they're age 6 and 4, respectively.
After reading this, if you're still itching for more information, there are two excellent books on enzymes I recommend:
Enzymes For Autism and other Neurological Conditions by Karen DeFelice
Enzymes: Go With Your Gut by Karen DeFelice
Here's to healthy poopies!