By. Dr. Devin Houston, PhD. (Houston Enzymes Founder)
The best manner in which to judge the credibility of any product, practice or methodology within a population is the test of time. Parents of children on the autism spectrum are skeptics at heart but usually willing to give something promising a chance to earn their continued loyalty. With that, enzyme supplements stand head and shoulders above what has ventured down the pike.
Enzyme usage has dramatically increased as evidenced by record sales worldwide. Industry uses enzymes for renewable energy sources, waste cleanup, animal feed, and as alternatives to caustic chemicals2,3. Medical research continues to find enzymes that create new compounds and streamline medical procedures3.
In view of the rising use of enzymes in industry and medicine, simply taking an enzyme supplement to help digestion appears fairly mundane. But so many people have maintained enzyme use for years, as measured by the loyalty of our own customers, media reports, and business promotions. Something must be there that appeals and satisfies. People do not continue to spend money on something that does not produce benefits. While many think they are “only” helping their digestion by using enzyme supplements they are in fact doing so much more!
The emphasis in autism treatment (and potential causation) shifted to the gut a number of years ago4,5,6. Autism is multi-factorial in cause, but the GI tract is getting a large share of attention. The gut microbiome, the bacteria populating primarily the colon, is the next frontier of research. We know now that the gut can communicate to the brain and it may be that those bacteria are sending the messages. Gut health depends to a large extent on they amount and types of bacteria colonizing the digestive tract. A well-functioning gut plays a major role in not just what we absorb from our diet, but also determines the strength of the immune system and ability to handle environmental assaults7.
Probiotic supplements are useful for restoring gut bacteria, however; individuals vary as to which species can thrive in their gut8. Repeated dosing of probiotics may be a sign that the bacteria are not colonizing or the wrong bacteria are being introduced. What many do not realize is that probiotics produce enzymes as well as other beneficial compounds but only if they have sufficiently colonized. Using enzymes to cut out the probiotic “middleman” may be a more efficient method of supporting gut digestion. Better yet, enzymes should complement probiotic use.
PLANT-BASED ENZYMES WORK IN ACIDIC CONDITIONS
This brings us back to enzyme supplements and why I consider them necessary. The most obvious attribute of enzymes is their ability to break foods down more thoroughly. What most do not realize is that plant-based enzymes, unlike pancreatic enzymes, actually begin working in the stomach, where normally little enzyme activity is present. Plant-derived enzymes work optimally in the acidic pH range of 2 to 59. Pancreatic enzymes are inactive below a pH of 6.0 and will not work even as an oral supplement until it passes through the stomach into the small intestine. The ability to work in acidic conditions (and alkaline environs as well) provides a huge advantage to the digestive process. Actual food breakdown starts earlier which provides another benefit: deactivation of problem foods.
The development of a food intolerance is the #1 reason many start using enzymes, especially enzymes that break down food proteins (proteases). Gluten, casein, soy protein, and even spinach produce opiate-like peptides known as exorphins during the normal digestive process10,11. These are the foods we know produce active peptides. It is highly likely that we will find other food proteins that produce similar peptides. It is also important to realize no single protease enzyme can address the break down of proteins such as gluten. A requirement for multiple proteases with differing points of action on the amino acid backbone of the protein has been confirmed by a number of studies12,13,14. What is often overlooked is the fact that these proteins can be degraded while still in the stomach (refer to previous section). The stomach is what I refer to as a “safe area” for problem foods. Only water, alcohol, some vitamins, sugars, and some drugs are able to be absorbed directly from the stomach15. No protein or peptide absorption occurs in the stomach. A meal will stay in the stomach for 3 – 5 hours before emptying into the small intestine where absorption CAN occur. This period of time is sufficient for a cocktail of plant-based oral proteases to break down problem foods like wheat, dairy and soy, if dosing levels are appropriate. Enzymes can keep working as long as there is something for them to work on, dosing adjustments are needed when meals are large or the time remaining in the stomach is short.
Several recent studies indicate that gut bacteria changes when diet changes16,17. We have the opportunity to modify our gut biome by adding or removing certain foods from our diet. But if food is not digested properly those changes may not occur. Adding fiber to your diet may not help if the fiber is actually contributing to gas-producing bacteria which also decreases compliance with high-fiber diets. Adding cellulase or xylanase enzymes in animal diets results in non-bacterial breakdown of fiber which benefits the bacteria without producing excess fermentation in the gut18,19. This also applies to foods high in complex carbohydrates. Yeast and “bad” bacteria feed on undigested carbs producing population explosions for these bad guys. Simple sugars produced by enzymatic digestion of carbs should be rapidly transported out of the gut and so do not feed dysbioses. Studies have also shown that diets low in microbiome-accessible carbohydrates (MACs), common in Western diets, result in fewer short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) being produced by gut bacteria20,21. SCFAs are helpful in reducing inflammation. Luckily, these compounds can be produced by enzymes, most notably the fat-busting lipase enzymes and carbohydrases such as amylase and glucoamylase. Current research for dietary alterations of the microbiome centers on obesity, diabetes, and inflammation-related disorders22,23. These disorders are not just related to the gut but affect multiple systems.
SO, WHAT NOW?
Familiarity breeds contempt, or, in this case, apathy. Have we become desensitized to the idea of using enzymes in our diet? Maybe so. Due to the band-wagon mindset of supplement companies we are deluged with advertising and marketing of enzyme products often with no real rationale for what makes a product different or useful. The introduction of inexpensive and ineffective enzyme products purely to take advantage of their popularity can lead newcomers to have negative experiences with enzyme products. Established companies with good, positive track records are the best bet for finding an enzyme product that works for your dietary and health support needs. The science behind the product must be explained and confirmed, if not by studies then at least by strong anecdotal evidence. Reliable and honest communication between enzyme companies and their customers is an absolute necessity in keeping consumers’ expectations in line with reality.
High quality enzyme supplements should be a mainstay of all diets. Enzymes derived from plant and friendly fungi are non-toxic. No level of enzyme dosing has been shown to be dangerous. The only precaution is that noted for any other food protein: ensuring non-allergenicity. With the increasing likelihood of environmental assault on our food supply it is important that every means be taken to provide the optimal level of nutrition. Supplemental enzyme use can decrease the severity of food intolerance, provide increased bio-availability of nutrients from any diet, and decrease the stress and oxidative assault on the GI tract. As we develop more knowledge of how our gut bacteria and mental health are affected by the foods we eat, I am confident that supplemental enzymes will prove to be even more important.
Team TACA References:
1- Dr. Houston’s Recent TACA Webinar is available for all TACA+ Members Here
2- Also, free to EVERYONE, be sure and register for his upcoming webinar: “Enzymes 101: Back to Basics” September 14th, 2016
3- Lastly, do not miss out on your opportunity to meet and hear from Dr. Houston at this year’s National TACA Autism Conference in Orange County, October 21-23, 2016! Dr. Houston will be speaking on Role of Enzymes in Autism, Gut Issues and Food Intolerances on Saturday!
Sign up now before Early Bird pricing ends, August 15th!
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- Henschen A, Lottspeich F, Brantl V and Teschemacher H. Novel opioid peptides derived from casein (beta-casomorphins). II. Structure of active components from bovine casein peptone. Hoppe Seylers Z Physiol Chem. 1979 Sep; 360(9):1217-24.
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- Munyaka PM, Nandha NK, Kiarie E, Nyachoti CM and Khafipour E. Impact of combined beta-glucanase and xylanase enzymes on growth performance, nutrients utilization and gut microbiota in broiler chickens fed corn or wheat-based diets. Poult Sci 2016 Mar; 95(3):528-40.
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