Pancreatic Enzymes Relieve Food Allergies
Taking pancreatic enzymes at the same time as an allergenic food can reduce the severity of the allergic reaction, according to a recent study published in Inflammation Research (2002; 51(Suppl 1):S13–4). This report is good news for many individuals who must follow a restricted diet because of food allergies.
Pancreatic enzymes are a group of proteins secreted by the pancreas into the intestinal tract that aid in the digestion of dietary protein, carbohydrate, and fat. Enzymes extracted from the pancreas of animals are available in capsule and tablet form, both by prescription and over the counter. Doctors recommend these products primarily as digestive aids for individuals with diseases of the pancreas. Nutrition-oriented doctors also use pancreatic enzymes to improve the digestion of people who do not have pancreatic disease, and some clinics recommend these enzymes as a component of cancer treatment.
In the new study, researchers identified ten individuals (average age 43 years) with food allergies. The participants ingested a known offending food on two separate occasions; on one of these occasions they also received, in double-blind fashion, a pancreatic enzyme preparation. Compared with no enzymes, administration of the pancreatic enzymes markedly reduced the severity of the food-induced symptoms in all ten patients.
While the exact mechanism that enables pancreatic enzymes to block allergic reactions from food is unknown, one possibility is that the enzymes improve digestion, thereby breaking down large, allergenic proteins into smaller, non-allergenic molecules. In addition, there is evidence that a proportion of orally administered enzymes can be absorbed intact into the bloodstream; once inside the body, they are apparently capable of exerting an anti-inflammatory effect.
The tablets used in this study were coated with a material that prevents the pancreatic enzymes from being destroyed by the stomach's digestive juices (enteric coating). It is not known whether non-enteric-coated products would have the same effect; however, many commercially available pancreatic-enzyme products are enteric-coated.
The use of pancreatic enzymes to treat food allergies was first mentioned in the 1930s. However, that preliminary report was not followed up until now, and the medical community remains largely unaware of this simple treatment. It may be hoped that the new study will encourage researchers to conduct larger, more definitive trials.
At present, there is no evidence that taking pancreatic enzymes can prevent the severe or life-threatening reactions that some individuals experience when they ingest specific foods (such as peanuts or shellfish). Individuals who have had severe allergic reactions should continue to avoid the offending foods.
Alan R. Gaby, MD, an expert in nutritional therapies, served as a member of the Ad-Hoc Advisory Panel of the National Institutes of Health Office of Alternative Medicine. He is the Medical Editor for Clinical Essentials Alert, is the author of Preventing and Reversing Osteoporosis (Prima, 1994), and co-author of The Natural Pharmacy, 2nd Edition (Healthnotes, Prima, 1999), the A–Z Guide to Drug-Herb-Vitamin Interactions (Healthnotes, Prima, 1999), Clinical Essentials Volume 1 and 2 (Healthnotes, 2000), and The Patient’s Book of Natural Healing (Prima, 1999). Currently he is the Endowed Professor of Nutrition at Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences, Kenmore, WA.
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