What are food intolerances?
Intolerances are usually a result of enzyme deficiencies, specifically the enzymes required to easily and completely digest Gluten, Dairy, Casein or Phenols. The more obvious symptoms may include occasional wind, bloating, abdominal discomfort and diarrhea or constipation when specific foods are eaten. There may also be not-so obvious symptoms such as tiredness, lethargy, headaches, skin rashes and irritability. These symptoms could show up hours or days after the particular food has been consumed. This is one of the reasons that can make it difficult for people to pin-point their food intolerances, and a food intolerance can develop at any age.
How common are food intolerances?
Food intolerances are more common than most people think, yet few people are aware that an intolerance could be the cause of a number of their particular health issues. In a recent UK survey around one in five adults reported having a food intolerance, with 40% of the population having one or more digestive issues each year.
Up to 30% of the UK population is thought to be dairy intolerant. The most widely accepted and understood issue with dairy is lactose intolerance. This is a common digestive problem where the body is unable to digest lactose, a type of sugar mainly found in milk and dairy products. One of the reasons is that after we reach “weaning age” our bodies stop producing as much of the digestive enzymes needed to consume milk, as our bodies would normally be eating other foods than breast milk after 2 or 3 years of age. That said, many cases first develop in people aged 20 to 40, although babies and young children over 2 or 3 years of age can also be affected. In the UK, lactose intolerance is more common in people of Asian or African-Caribbean descent.
Some people that are dairy sensitive choose to drink lactose free milk. They will often see an improvement, but not always full resolution. This may be because about 50% of the people with dairy intolerances actually have sensitivity to the dairy protein Casein, not the dairy sugars. Casein makes up 80% of the proteins in cow milk (the other 20% being whey proteins). So, in reality Casein intolerances are about equally as important as Lactose intolerances, but are often not adequately addressed. Reports suggest that intolerance to gluten (also known as Non-Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity NCGS) is much more prevalent than Coeliac Disease. Gluten sensitivity seems to be more common in females and in young/middle age adults. The prevalence of gluten intolerance in children is still unknown, except in the autistic/ADD communities where gluten intolerance is an important factor and is being continually studied and reported on.
What are the common symptoms to look out for?
The symptoms of some food intolerances may be apparent very soon after eating. However, for many, particularly less severe cases symptoms tend to come on more slowly. It may take many hours after eating the problem food, possible even later the next day.
It is also possible to be intolerant to several different food groups. In some cases this can make it difficult to identify which foods are causing the problem(s), especially when eating outside the home.
Food intolerances can also be difficult to tell apart from other digestive disorders that may produce similar symptoms, such as inflammatory bowel disease, gastrointestinal obstructions or irritable bowel syndrome. If you do have IBS you might find that certain types of food, such as fried or fatty food, can trigger the onset of symptoms.
The most common symptoms of food intolerances include:
• flatulence (wind)
• bloated stomach
• stomach cramps and pains
• stomach rumbling
• feeling sick
• rashes on the body
Is there anything people can do to lower their chances of developing an intolerance?
Identifying and then reducing or eliminating the foods which trigger digestive problems, is the most important step. For anyone having symptoms that is not already sure of the cause, keeping a food diary is a very useful to track what you have eaten and how you are feeling later that day (or over the next few days).
An elimination diet used in combination with digestive enzyme supplements is one of the best ways to help reduce your symptoms. You may want to discuss this with your health practitioner. Meanwhile there are enzyme products for known specific intolerances, and also broad spectrum enzymes for multiple food intolerances.
Dietary wise, what are the best foods to eat that can ease a gut irritated by intolerance?
The more that can be done with diet the better. Firstly, if the food or food group has been identified, remove the offending food items for at least 3 weeks to see if this makes a difference for you. The types of food that can “ease an irritated gut” include homemade beef or chicken stock (made from the bones), lightly steamed non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, beetroot, okra, spinach and kale, also probiotic rich foods such as sauerkraut , kefir and natural yoghurt. Clean lean protein; protein deficiency is common in people with bowel disease, therefore try to eat at least 3-4 oz of protein per meal. Fresh vegetable juice, as long as the vegetable juice does not worsen any diarrhea, vegetables can help provide critical electrolytes. Healthy fats, consuming healthy fats in moderation like organic egg yolks, wild caught salmon, avocado, ghee and coconut oil are easy on the gut and promote healing. Water is critical to keep the digestive system healthy, so try to drink 8 ounces of fluids every 2 hours.
Why are digestive enzymes useful for people with food intolerances?
Some people simply do not produce sufficient amounts of the specific enzymes required to break down every food protein. Digestive enzymes play an important role in reducing food intolerances by helping our digestive system break down the chemical bonds that hold food proteins together. When broken down properly, the reduced food particle size decreases the likelihood of symptoms associated with food intolerances. Additionally, along with better digestion, enzymes assist in the absorption of vital nutrients and good bowel movements.
What should people be looking for in terms of enzyme quality?
Look for digestive enzyme formulas that use high activity blends and the specific enzyme(s) needed to digest the food that you may be intolerant to. For example, the enzyme lactase breaks down lactose. The enzyme protease breaks down protein (including casein, a dairy protein). DPP-IV assists with the breakdown of gluten.
For lactose intolerance look for a high potency lactase formula. If casein and/or gluten are/is the suspected intolerance, then look for a supplement that includes DPP-IV support with the addition of a protease blend. If there is a combination of gluten, casein, lactose and phenol intolerances (or if you just haven’t pinpointed the suspected intolerance) then look for a broad spectrum digestive enzyme supplement that contains DPP-IV,amylase, lactase, cellulase, xylanase, and additional digestive enzymes such as protease, alpha galactosidase and glucoamaylase. Buying a broad spectrum enzyme will eliminate the need to purchase multiple products.
Avoid any digestive enzymes that are in tablets. The processes of making tablets denatures many of the enzymes so these will never be as effective as enzyme products in a good quality capsule. Avoid any capsules that use fillers such as magnesium stearate, apple pectin and rice starch.
Look for blended enzymes such as “Thera-Blend” . There are many hundreds of strains of each enzyme. Each one works at a very specific pH level & temperature. Most manufacturers use single strains in the hope that it may work at a pH level that suits the individual. However, some people are more acidic and some more alkaline. So which one really works best for you? Thera-Blend involves carefully selecting and blending together multiple strains of a given enzyme (i.e. multiple strains of amylase, multiple proteases, multiple lipases and multiple cellulases). This blending means that they will work at every pH level in any human body, even surviving harsh stomach acid, meaning that everyone will benefit.
Looking at the label of a high quality enzyme product, you will find measurement units you may not be familiar with, such as Protease-HUT, Lipase – FCCFIP, Lactase – ALU, Amylase – DU. With most supplements, we are used to comparing products based on weight. However, with enzymes we are only interested in the activity and potency available. It is important to recognize that there is no direct relationship between weight and enzyme activity. If the supplement you are looking at has any of the enzyme ingredients listed by weight (mgs) we suggest that you leave that one on the shelf!
Are there any other supplements people can take?
Enzymes go hand-in-hand with Probiotic supplements (also called active or live bacteria). Good quality probiotics help with a healthy microbiome in the gut. And a healthy microbiome helps the body deal with food intolerance issues. To help the most with food intolerance look for probiotic products that contain multiple strains of Bacillus spores in their ingredients list (i.e bacillus indicus, bacillus coagulans, bacillus clausii, bacillus subtilis). If you are already taking a probiotic supplement on a daily basis now is the time to start adding digestive enzyme to your daily meal times.