Frequently Asked Questions (23 total)
adapted excerpt from book 'Enzymes for Autism and other Neurological Conditions'.
copyright October 2002. last updated 8.25.05
1. What are enzymes?
Enzymes are proteins made by cells in our bodies and all living organisms. They are specialized proteins that do work, such as synthesizing chemicals, rearranging molecules, adding elements to compounds, and breaking down compounds. Enzymes are protein catalysts. They cause biological reactions to occur under conditions that sustain life. Many types of enzymes exist and each type does one specific function. For an enzyme to work, the material it works upon must be present. If no such material is available to the enzyme, the enzyme performs no function. There are also metabolic enzymes in our body, but this discussion is limited to the digestive enzymes that help break down food.
2. How do enzymes work?
In general, enzymes work as catalysts of biochemical reactions. A catalyst increases or accelerates the rate of a reaction. The thousands of chemical reactions that occur in our body every second could not happen without enzymes to speed up these reactions. For example, a protein can be broken down into amino acids in the lab without the use of an enzyme, but to do so requires extreme temperatures, high pressure, or very strong acids; conditions not compatible with life. Even with these conditions, it often requires hours to complete the reaction in the lab. Enzymes, in this case a mixture of proteases, can complete this reaction within minutes in water at normal temperatures. Another unique aspect of enzymes is that they facilitate the reaction without being destroyed or changed in the process. Because of this, one enzyme molecule could theoretically change an infinite amount of substrate if given an infinite amount of time. Increasing the amount of enzyme decreases the time required for completing the process. If you double the number of enzyme molecules, you decrease the time for the reaction by half.
3. Where do enzymes come from and where do they go?
Enzymes exist in all raw food. All raw foods, including meats, have some enzyme activity. For 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. 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.
4. Why would you want an enzyme product as a nutritional or dietary supplement?
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. Proteases may be beneficial between meals if you have an autoimmune condition or are recovering from an injury or illness. Enzyme-based products are one of the least utilized dietary aids, despite the fact that their use dates back thousands of years. Many manufacturers may avoid the use of enzyme products because their mode of action can be complex, and requires specific scientific knowledge and expertise.
5. Why take an enzyme supplement if I can just eat raw foods?
You could, except that raw food diets are difficult to maintain. Eating raw meat, with the danger of bacterial toxins, is not advisable as a means of obtaining food enzymes. Also, the amount of enzymes present in raw food is such that it would take many hours to adequately digest the food, and raw food does not necessarily contain all the enzymes needed. Enzyme supplements are a concentrated form of food enzymes that you may add to any diet so breakdown of food will occur at a faster rate.
6. Aren’t enzymes taken orally destroyed by stomach acid or the body’s own enzymes?
7. Can proteases be dangerous?
Some enzymes taken orally, including those made from animal pancreas extracts, become inactive in the low pH of stomach acid. Microbial-derived enzymes are acid-resistant, and can maintain activity at pH as low as 2.0 and as high as 10.0. Microorganisms use their enzymes to break down and digest the plant material that they grow upon. Since the site of fungal growth in nature can vary, fungi have evolved enzyme systems that allow the plant to grow under a variety of conditions, including differences in pH and temperature. Pancreatic enzymes work under a much narrower range of pH in the animal, since their environment is more controlled. Manufacturers often enterically coat pancreatic enzymes to provide resistance to acidity. Some of these coatings contain ingredients considered unhealthful.
Used appropriately, these enzymes pose no danger to the consumer. The biggest problem with enzymes is the inhalation of large quantities of enzyme dust by people who work around enzymes a great deal, or getting large quantities on one’s skin, such as in manufacturing plants. In both circumstances, enzymes can cause irritation, itching, and discomfort. It is rarely a problem with normal digestive use.
8. Will enzymes digest my mouth, stomach, or intestines?
If this were true, the enzymes produced by your own body would have already digested you away. These enzymes much prefer the denatured (cooked or damaged) proteins found in foods. Most proteins, in their healthy state, are coiled and globular in structure. This prevents the enzymes from having access to cleavage sites. When heated or in extremes of pH (like stomach acid), the proteins uncoil, exposing sites where the enzyme can bind and cleave.
Also, the cells of our bodies and the mucosal lining of the gastrointestinal tract contain protease inhibitors that inactivate certain protease enzymes. The mucosal layer acts as a physical barrier to proteolytic activity on living cells. The pancreas exposes your small intestine to a barrage of enzymes every time you eat, and the enzymes do not break down the intestine. If enzyme powder remains on the lips or gums for a prolonged time, it may break down some of the layer of dead cells that covers our mouth and throat (the whitish-colored layer). When the fresh, raw layer of tissue comes into contact with saliva, the person may feel slight irritation. If you open a capsule to mix it with food, make sure you drink something afterwards to wash any enzyme residue down. Because amylase is in saliva, you have a constant supply of enzymes in your mouth all the time anyway.
9. Can one become dependent upon oral enzymes? Will the pancreas stop functioning if I take enzyme for a long time?
No. Research has shown some adaptability of the pancreas in animals; giving oral enzymes resulted in a slight decrease in pancreatic enzyme output that quickly returned to normal once supplementing with enzymes stopped. The pancreas does not stop functioning.
10. I have never used an enzyme product with my child. What kinds of reactions can I expect?
Reactions from enzymes can vary. If your child is not on a casein-free, gluten-free diet, the use of enzymes that break down casein, gluten, or any other ‘addictive’ substance may cause a withdrawal effect. The child may actually appear to be worse for a few days. This is because of the decrease in peptides in his or her system.
Symptoms may appear as hyperactivity, being more sensitive to pain and stimulus, aggression, and sleep disturbances. In addition, you may notice digestive changes, such as increased frequency of bowel movements (not diarrhea), less stool passed, and a possible increase in gas production. All these are temporary and should be resolved in a matter of days. An increase in urination and thirst may appear too.
11. How long do these symptoms last?
Adjustment symptoms may not appear at all, but if they do, most people get through this period in about a week. Most people find the symptoms are very mild, manageable and end by the third week. In a few instances, the symptoms may last longer.
12. What about dosing? How much do I need to give?
Enzyme dosing is by the amount and type of food eaten and not based on age or weight. A good plan is to start with part of one capsule of one product per significant meal or snack. Then increase to one capsule, then start in a similar way with other enzyme products. In the neuro-typical population, there is no established upper limit on enzyme dosing, and no toxicity associated with oral enzymes. How many capsules or tablets would depend on the specific formulation and the individual’s need. For those individuals who tend to ‘graze,’ interval dosing may be more appropriate. Most people need to experiment (within reason!) with dosing to find the level that best suits you or your child’s individual needs.
13. When is the best time for giving the enzymes?
Preferably with the first few bites of the meal or just before mealtime. If you forget, go ahead and take the enzymes during the meal and even at the end of the meal. The important point is to take the enzyme, which works on contact. Food stays in the stomach for up to 90 minutes, therefore, introducing enzymes anytime during the meal will still provide benefits. Some people see much better results if they wait 20 to 30 minutes after swallowing enzymes contained in vegetable-based capsules before they eat. Apparently the vegetable capsules take longer to dissolve in the stomach environment.Waiting before eating allows time for the capsule to dissolve and sufficiently release the enzymes into the stomach.
14. My child will not swallow capsules. Can I sprinkle the enzymes on her food?
Yes. The enzymes will mix with food or beverages. Just pull the capsule open, and empty it out. If you use less than an entire capsule, you can just click the capsule back together and use the rest of the enzymes later. The taste and smell of enzyme products vary a great deal, which you may want to mask with fruit juice, ketchup, etc. Other products have no taste or smell at all. Please be careful to not inhale the enzyme powder, and to clear any residual enzyme powder from the mouth and throat area with additional food or beverage. Just make sure your child wipes their mouth after taking the enzymes. See the section on Mixing Suggestions in Chapter 11.
15. My child took an enzyme, and then did not eat. Is this harmful?
No. If the substance is not present, the enzymes will not do anything. Since enzymes are protein, the body will eventually process the enzymes as any other food protein. Many people take high doses of enzyme products on an empty stomach to facilitate systemic enzyme therapy, that is, the uptake of enzymes into the circulation. This is common in treating various conditions with goals other than just the breakdown of food.
16. How can I give the enzymes with my child’s school lunch?
You will need to check with your school on their policies for over-the-counter substances. See Chapter 19, Enzymes at School. You may try mixing the enzymes into a cold drink in a thermos and adding ice cubes to keep it cold. The cooler (even frozen) you keep an enzyme, the longer it lasts. This is important because enzymes become activated, and then start losing their activity once put into a liquid solution. Making chocolate wafers is another popular idea.
17. How do enzyme supplements help in autism and other pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs)?
Many of these people may have general digestion problems, leaky gut, inflammation in the gut, yeast overgrowth, or other conditions that result in insufficiently digested food and poor absorption which enzymes may help improve. Some, not all, children with autism exhibit behavioral problems that lessen with the removal of certain foods. There is some evidence that insufficiently broken down proteins may bind to receptors in the gut and brain causing problematic symptoms and behaviors.
Other foods may result in equally problematic, although different, symptoms. Enzymes help break down foods more sufficiently so they will not be in a form that is problematic or causes an immune system reaction. At the same time, they may help heal the fundamental gastrointestinal issues.
18. Peptizyde is considered the breakthrough. What makes Peptizyde so special?
Peptizyde contains a unique blend of proteases and peptidases targeting the identified problematic peptides, which made it the first product to allow some sensitive individuals to eat casein and gluten regularly. A recent research study confirms that the synergistic effect of these particular proteases are particularly effective in breaking casein and other protein bonds. This was the first blend to allow many people to successfully use instead of a casein-free, gluten-free diet. It came out in April 2001. Because of its strong success, other companies will no doubt duplicate or pattern this formulation in other similar products.
19. If my child is already on a restrictive diet, do I still need enzymes?
There are a number of restrictive diets found to be helpful with various subgroups of autism spectrum and neurological conditions – Feingold, yeast, Specific Carbohydrate Diet, casein-free/gluten-free, high protein, and others. Since enzymes facilitate food breakdown, absorption, and utilization they may be very helpful with any of these. Sources of the potentially harmful peptides and how they function are not completely understood, nor are the exact mechanisms of other problematic foods. Sources of peptide production from within the body, such as normal breakdown of red blood cells, yeast, and bacteria (good and bad) may be contributing to the peptide load. This may explain why some do not see much improvement with certain restrictive diets.
20. Can I use the enzymes in place of a restrictive diet?
Most people find they can reintroduce most foods by giving the appropriate enzymes for the food type. However, not all people can successfully reintroduce all foods. You may still need to restrict a few items on a case-by-case basis. Particularly problematic foods are nuts, seeds, and foods conveying a ‘true’ allergy. Enzymes can supplement any type of diet, and people show improvement in most circumstances. Some people find when they use certain enzymes they no longer need to follow a restrictive diet. There are a variety of restrictive diet types giving success to various sub-groups of individuals: Feingold Diet, Specific Carbohydrate Diet, Casein-free/Gluten-free (and often soy-free) Diet, Keto Diet (high protein), Yeast Control Diets, and Rotation Diets.
Since enzymes facilitate food breakdown, absorption, and utilization they may be very helpful with any of these. The exact mechanisms of many problematic foods are not completely understood. Sources of peptide production from within the body, such as normal breakdown of red blood cells, yeast, and bacteria (good and bad) may be contributing to any peptide load. Or carbohydrate and sugar sources may be unknown. Or there is gut injury not accounted for. This may explain why some people do not see much improvement with certain restrictive diets, but do with enzymes. Adding enzymes to facilitate the digestion of what you do eat may make a diet more effective, such as adding proteases to a high protein diet.
Enzymes work very well to supplement a diet and thus make the diet more effective than it would be otherwise. Many diets are based on certain foods not being well-digested to begin with so enzymes are a natural solution. Enzymes work very well on actual food and natural food chemicals. The breakdown of artificially produced chemicals or added chemicals is somewhat limited at this time. These non-food ingredients usually do not provide nutrition anyway, may aggravate a sensitive system, and may hamper health in the long run. Enzymes are not able to convert non-nutritious compounds into healthful nutrients. Providing nutritious raw materials is necesary. Enzymes may enhance the absorption and ultization of any supplements or medications taken as well, making them more effective.
21. How do enzymes compare with a casein-free, gluten-free diet?
Some have wondered whether enzyme products can replace a casein-free, gluten-free diet. Enzymes are not a one-to-one equivalent for food elimination because enzymes accomplish much more than a restrictive diet. Remember that enzymes are specific to the foods they break down, so you need to have the right enzymes for the corresponding food type. If using enzymes instead of a restrictive diet is your goal, you need to look for a product specific and effective enough for this purpose. Many parents are using Peptizyde (and perhaps similar products) as an alternative to a casein-free, gluten-free diet and reporting that their children are showing immense improvement beyond what they saw on a restrictive diet, or even on a diet plus enzymes. So, yes it is very possible. Each person will need to decide for him or herself whether this is the best course of action for their situation. Supplementing a restrictive diet with enzymes not only helps to reduce or inhibit the production of these potentially harmful peptides, but also to support digestion and ensure complete degradation of food such that they may not be problematic, and increase the availability of nutrients at the same time. Enzymes can be used with a restrictive diet to supplement the food elimination efforts.
Having an enzyme product that is at least as effective as a casein-free, gluten-free diet, or other diet type, has been critically important for those people who desire to try such a diet but cannot implement it round the clock due to circumstances beyond their control. In particular are those with older children or adults in their care, or those who do not personally provide full-time care for their child (as in divorce situations, or when other caregivers do not support an elimination diet).
22. Do I have to get my doctor’s approval?
Although enzymes are considered a safe food not needing a doctor’s approval, it is always advisable to get the input of your health care physician when making decisions or changes regarding your health. This includes with any diets (particularly very restrictive ones), supplements, or over the counter products. Many supplements or diets can affect neurology. Some supplements may not be safe in higher amounts. A medical professional needs to know everything you are taking or would like to take in order to make good recommendations for your health. Although enzymes are very rarely a problem, adverse interactions are possible among other ‘all natural herbs,’ vitamins, or over-the-counter compounds. Most doctors do not have much training in nutrition and they may recommend you see someone who specializes in nutrition. Most doctors consider digestive enzymes a safe thing to try, just like you would bottled water, fresh fruit, or whole grains not really requiring medical approval.
23. What Else Do I Need to Know?
Many people are able to significantly reduce their costs for food, supplements and therapies with these enzyme products. Many families are able to find more manageable and enjoyable ways to assist their children and improve their quality of life. All age groups show improvements of some kind, even significant ones, including teens and adults, although results for any specific individual may vary considerably. People have been using enzymes for years to safely assist in food intolerances and allergies, leaky gut, yeast, and immune system support among others. These well-researched benefits probably explain the overwhelming success rate and the wide range of improvement. Because enzymes have proven to help each of the wide variety of biological conditions seen with many neurological conditions, including autism, the high success rate of people improvement is logical, reasonable, and based in sound scientific principles. Of the individuals who tried these enzymes for other conditions, the vast majority have reported at least some benefits (chronic fatigue, AD(H)D, asthma, fibromyalgia, sensory issues, migraines, allergies, etc.)
The question of 'do enzymes wear off' was heavily monitored in the
first year of this group. But in over four years and thousands of
families passing through (and reports from enzyme users not in the
group), this has never been reported. There was also a concern that a
person may become 'intolerant' of enzymes over time as they do to
many foods. This also has never been reported.
What we see is if an enzyme product isn't going to work, that is
apparent from the beginning. There is no abrupt regression several
months later as does happen at times if you do GFCF and then quit the
diet without enzymes. If enzymes do work from the beginning, the
improvements are maintained over time, or continue to improve more
Unlike food eliminations, enzymes can help pro-actively heal tissue.
So what you may see is that the longer you use enzymes, the less you
need for the same level of improvement. This can be due to gut
healing. As the gut heals, you own enzymes can be restored so you
don't need supplemental ones as much. This is very good.
>>>> Negative mood will pop up now and again, often accompanied by
lots of complaining (it's hot, I'm bored, this shirt bothers me, it's
noisy) or being very critical or nasty of those around her.
Unfortunately, this is typical kid (and adult) behavior too. If it is
just a day or two here and there I would say it sounds very typical.
It will be very interesting to see your daughter's progress on the
Virastop. One of the patterns/symptoms of a viral problems is a
cyclic pattern of unexplained illness and then unexplained
improvement. The cycles can be weeks or months or years apart. It is
the cycle pattern that is indicative rather than the actual time
period. It is great she is doing so well with the enzymes at the time.
Also, the hair test might tell you something. My kids are rather
close in age but different in body type. One chews a lot and one
doesn't like to chew. One has a very gentle personality and one is
more intense or rough. That is typical too. While it isn't fun to
ever have your child fussing, now when my son is fussing it is
appropriate to the situation. Such as he can't find his homework in
his backpack and doesn't want to get docked points for lateness. At
least the fussing is in context.