Digestive Enzymes and IBS
Digestive Enzymes and IBS
by Claire Allen MS RDN LDN
Digestive enzymes are proteins naturally produced by the gastrointestinal tract to assist our bodies in the breakdown and absorption of proteins, fats and carbohydrates consumed from food. In most people, supplementation is only necessary if the enzyme production is insufficient. As it pertains to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), most research has focused on lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose to glucose and galactose in the small intestine and alpha-galactosidase, the enzyme that breaks down galacto-oligosaccharide (GOS) into simple sugar units.
You have likely heard of lactose intolerance, which is the inability to properly absorb cow’s milk dairy products. Lactase is the enzyme produced by cells lining the brush border of the small intestine. When this enzyme is deficient, the carbohydrate lactose – found in cow’s milk dairy products – goes undigested. As a result, water is attracted into the small intestine via osmosis and the undigested carbohydrates pass to the large intestine where they are fermented by the gut bacteria. This can result in symptoms of gas, bloat and diarrhea. Lactase supplements can be purchased in tablet form and taken orally right before eating. Research shows they generally improve the tolerance of cow’s milk consumption in lactose intolerant individuals. This is beneficial since cow’s milk is an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D.
Alpha-galactosidase enzyme supplementation is less common. This enzyme is required to break down galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) into simple sugar units. GOS are oligosaccharides that are found in kidney beans, navy beans, some soy-based milk and soy flour products, cashews, pistachios, green peas, chickpeas and lentils. All humans naturally lack the enzyme alpha-galactosidase so GOS are universally malabsorbed. GOS act as an energy source for gut bacteria, but their consumption results in fermentation and gas formation. For individuals with IBS, the additional gas production can result in abdominal discomfort, bloating and distention. Research indicates that alpha-galactosidase enzyme supplementation can reduce symptoms for individuals with IBS. This is useful in allowing IBS sufferers to liberalize their diet, particularly individuals who are vegan and rely on the GOS food sources for protein.
It is important to keep in mind that enzyme supplementation is not a cure-all for everyone. Many individuals with IBS have an array of food sensitivities, which is why working with a dietitian trained in digestive disorders is important. If you suffer from IBS and have unanswered questions related to your nutrition, contact our office to schedule an appointment with one of our dietitians at 224-407-4400 or at www.compgihealth.com. #IBS #irritablebowelsyndrome #lactoseintolerance #enzymesupplementation