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.
This therapy is sometimes called 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 skills 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 for autistic children?
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.
Some people say these proteins contribute to the characteristics of autism. They also 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 guidelines for this approach. In some studies, participants were given a dietary enzyme that they took orally 3 times a day before meals for 12 weeks.
Does digestive enzyme therapy help autistic children?
There’s little or no evidence that digestive enzyme therapy has any benefits 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?
Where can you find a practitioner?
Digestive enzymes are available in many health food stores and pharmacies, but it’s best to talk with your GP or paediatrician or a paediatric dietitian before using digestive enzymes.
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.
The cost of this therapy varies depending on the brand of digestive enzyme used and its dose or strength. It also depends on whether the digestive enzyme is covered by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and whether you hold a concession card like a Health Care Card.
Therapies and supports for autistic children range from behaviour therapies and developmental approaches to medicines and alternative therapies. When you understand the main types of therapies and supports for autistic children, it’ll be easier to work out the approach that will best suit your child.