What is digestive enzyme therapy?
Digestive enzyme therapy involves taking supplementary enzymes to help with digestion. The aim is to help the body digest particular proteins. Some people say these proteins contribute to the characteristics of autism.
Other common names for this therapy include enzyme therapy.
Who is digestive enzyme therapy for?
Supporters of this therapy say that autistic children and adults of any age can use digestive enzyme therapy.
What is digestive enzyme therapy used for?
Digestive enzyme therapy is used to relieve the digestive problems that autistic people commonly experience. It’s claimed that doing this will help reduce the characteristics of autism – for example, difficulties with social and communication skills.
Where does digestive enzyme therapy come from?
In the 1980s and 1990s, it was first suggested that autistic people might not digest food proteins very well, particularly the proteins casein (found in milk) and gluten (found in wheat).
Based on this idea, certain therapies were developed. First came elimination diets. After some difficulties with these, enzyme therapy was developed as an alternative treatment to help with protein digestion.
What is the idea behind digestive enzyme therapy?
In our bodies, we all have natural chemicals called ‘opioids’, which are similar to morphine in their effect on pain.
Supporters of digestive enzyme therapy believe that autism is caused by excess opioid activity in the brain, which is related to digestive problems with particular proteins in food. These people say that taking enzymes to improve the digestion of proteins like gluten and casein can reduce the characteristics of autism.
These ideas are not well supported by research.
What does digestive enzyme therapy involve?
There are no established practice guidelines for this approach. In some studies, participants were given a dietary enzyme that they took orally three times a day before meals for 12 weeks.
The cost of this therapy varies depending on the brand of drug used and the drug dose or strength. It also depends on whether the drug is covered by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and whether you hold a concession card like a Health Care Card.
Does digestive enzyme therapy work?
There’s little or no evidence that digestive enzyme therapy has any benefit for autistic people.
Also, some studies have shown significant side effects, including stomach problems, nausea, loss of appetite, fatigue and dizziness.
Who practises digestive enzyme therapy?
Parent education, training, support and involvement
If your child is taking digestive enzyme supplements, you need to ensure your child takes the enzyme before each meal for the duration of the therapy.
Where can you find a practitioner?
It’s best to talk with your GP or paediatrician or a paediatric dietician before using digestive enzymes.
There are many therapies for autism. They range from those based on behaviour and development to those based on medicine or alternative therapy. Our article on types of interventions for autistic children takes you through the main therapies, so you can better understand your child’s options.