Addressing Food Intolerances With Enzymes

Fear No Food

By Elizabeth Lipski, PhD, CCN

Does eating dairy, wheat or tomatoes make you feel worse? If so, you aren’t alone. Today one out of every three people believes they have a food allergy or sensitivity.

The ultimate purpose of eating is to provide each cell in your body with the nutrients it needs. If you can’t digest your food well, your cells don’t work optimally. When working with clients, I am always looking for the lever that will gently push healing into gear. One tool that I have found to be effective is supplemental digestive enzymes.

People of all ages can benefit from supplemental digestive enzymes. They enhance our ability to get nutrients to our cells. As we age, we typically make fewer digestive enzymes. Children with growth, learning, behavior, digestive, or skin issues often benefit. People who have food intolerances or are sensitive to digesting certain foods can often broaden what they eat because they are actually digesting the food properly.

What Are Enzymes?

Enzymes are proteins that are catalysts used to facilitate tiny chemical changes for virtually every single chemical process that occurs in your body. There are thousands of known enzymes and each has a specific job. We use them to think, create energy, adjust hormone levels, and virtually everything else. We cannot use a vitamin, a mineral, a fat, make or break down cells, or control blood sugar without enzymes.

Our body makes two main types of enzymes: metabolic enzymes and digestive enzymes. The metabolic enzymes run all body systems. Digestive enzymes are produced in the pancreas and throughout the digestive system to help us break down our foods into molecules that our cells recognize. These enzymes are manufactured from proteins and need to be continually replenished.

Each enzyme has a specific job and works on a specific type of molecule. The main types of enzymes are lipases for digesting fats, carbohydrases for digesting carbohydrates, and proteases for the digestion of protein.

We can also use enzymes that come from foods and supplements to bolster our own. Some of these sources include fresh, raw foods such as fruits and vegetables, along with cultured and fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kim chee, natural cheeses, and kefir.

Enzyme Deficiencies

Many people have enzyme deficiencies, making them unable to adequately digest specific foods or food groups. Have you ever eaten a bowl of chili or cereal with milk and found yourself left with an uncomfortable amount of gas? It’s probably because you lack the enzymes to digest either beans or dairy products. The most common enzyme deficiency is lactose intolerance affecting about 25% of us. Celiac disease (though technically not an enzyme deficiency) and gluten intolerance make it impossible for us to break down the gluten protein in grains. Gluten is highly resistant to digestion. Specific enzymes, such as DPP-IV assist in digestion of the gluten molecule. Phenols and salicylates can be problematic for another group of people. Xylanase enzymes break these down. Typically this enzyme deficiency can contribute to neurological symptoms, such as learning and behavior disorders.

Left unchecked, enzyme deficiencies prevent complete digestion of specific compounds in foods and can lead to symptoms of food intolerance. Because enzymes are specific, we need to have a lot of different types to digest specific food components.

Digestive Enzyme Supplements

The use of supplemental digestive enzymes can help support your body so that you have fewer sensitivity reactions. Taking a broad-spectrum digestive enzyme product is a simple way to more fully digest the food you eat so that it can be delivered to your cells in a form that they can use. Enzymes also help reduce leaky gut and food sensitivities because there is less irritation in the small intestine.

Many people feel a difference the first time enzymes are taken with food. You may need two capsules with a large meal, or with meals containing foods that you are sensitive to. Take them with you if you are going to a party or eating out. Even if you are careful, gluten, dairy and other food components can easily show up in a meal.

Look for enzyme products that have a broad array of enzymes. They should be specific about which enzymes are contained in the formula and also list the activity units. Activity units give you the strength of the specific enzyme. The abbreviations for the activity units are specific to the type of enzyme. For example, protease enzymes are listed as HUT, amylase enzymes are DU, and lactase as ALU. Enzymes derived from animal pancreas use activity units as USP. With either system, the higher the unit numbers the greater the activity. Though this is a key component, it is important to realize that superior enzyme products are blended like fine wines; and each company blends a bit differently. Using a broad spectrum product will typically give you the best results with food intolerances and food sensitivities.

Elizabeth Lipski, Ph.D., C.C.N., holds a doctorate in clinical nutrition and is a board-certified clinical nutritionist. Dr. Lipski has worked in the field of holistic and complementary medicine for over twenty-five years and is the author of Digestive wellness and Leaky Gut Syndrome. Dr. Lipski is currently in private practice in Asheville, North Carolina.

FREE REPORT (PDF FILE) by By Elizabeth Lipski, PhD, CCN

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