Enzymes (originally written 5/22/07)

I finished reading Enzymes for Autism over the weekend and ordered two types of enzymes for Nate last night. I am really excited about the possibility that these are going to help him a lot.

Here is a basic rundown of how I understand enzymes. Enzymes are catalysts in our bodies, and one thing they do is aid in digestion by breaking foods down. Our bodies make them, and raw foods contain them too. There is a trend that many (most?) people with autism and similar conditions also have digestive/gut issues. DeFelice writes, “This may be due to a real unidentified biological issue which is manifesting in problematic behavior.” Because of these gut issues, many people with autism are put on a gluten- and casein-free diet (no wheat or dairy), and this seems to help when followed 100% (though strict adherence to the diet is very difficult, as many, many items contain gluten). However, what if, instead of removing food after food, you instead supply the person’s body with the enzymes it needs to break down gluten, casein, and the other foods that have caused problems?

DeFelice found that a large majority of people (over 85%) with autism/PDD who began taking enzymes and participated in her study saw a marked improvement in/disappearance of “autistic” behavior: increased eye contact, increased language, increase in foods tolerated and foods accepted by child’s choice, improved transitioning (changing activities/unexpected change in schedule), improved socialization, increased awareness. What is the connection? How can sprinkling some enzymes on someone’s food every time he/she eats lead to changes in behavior? Here’s what DeFelice writes:

“A fundamental issue is the fact that there is an extensive nerve network (the enteric nervous system) running along the entire gastrointestinal tract. So anything that affects the gut directly affects the nerves. This leads to digestive enzymes having a direct impact on neurology. In addition, the largest part of the immune system in our body is in the mucosal lining on the frontlines of the gut…. Many people with neurological difficulties also have general digestive problems, leaky gut, inflammation of 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. 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.” (349)

DeFelice goes into much further detail in the book; she also gives practical suggestions on how to get children to take the enzymes and what to expect when starting on them. They come in capsule form but can be broken apart and sprinkled on food or in a drink. I can also open a capsule and freeze the bad-tasting enzymes into a chocolate wafer. Also, I know to expect that the first one to three weeks on enzymes might make Nate seem worse physically and behaviorally, since 1) the enzymes will be cleaning out his system and 2) “the use of enzymes that break down casein, gluten, or any other ‘addictive’ substance may cause a withdrawal effect [for those not already on a casein-free, gluten-free diet]…. This is because of the decrease in peptides in his or her system” (347).

I ordered Peptizyde and Zyme Prime for Nate. Peptizyde is for the breakdown of proteins, which means it works directly on casein, gluten, and other “problem” foods. Zyme Prime is a “broad spectrum” enzyme product, so it contains lots of different kinds of enzymes, and it works on carbohydrates, fats, starches, and proteins.

I will be sure to report on when the enzymes come, when I start Nate on them, and if he makes any progress!

Here are some links with more information:

Enzymes and Autism Yahoo group – I just joined
Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew – PDF file

Edited to add: Every time I reread this post, I think of more things I should write about (e.g., information on why some with autism might be “addicted” to gluten and casein, more on what I read in the book about how enzymes heal the gut and thereby affect behavior). But hey, I have two kids and no more time! šŸ™‚

2008 update:
We are still doing enzymes with Nate with much success. We have since added other dietary treatments into our arsenal, and I now believe enzymes are an important part of a treatment plan that includes diet change and probiotics.