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Enzymes What You Should Know, GI 

Function, and Autism

Autism One Conference
Chicago, IL
May 23, 2009
Education and research

• PhD - University of South Alabama College of Medicine

• Academic research: UVa, St. Louis College of Medicine

• Cell signalling of various receptors: adenosine,

• neurobiology, diabetes

• Private research in Enzyme Manufacturing

• Developed first enzyme product targeted to autism community
• Found DPP IV as undocumented side activity in enzyme blends
• Consultant and currently owner of Houston Enzymes
What are enzymes?

• Specialized proteins that catalyze chemical reactions

• Not changed or destroyed during the reaction
• Specific for a single function
• Many thousands of different enzymes
• Metabolic - inside cells, difficult to affect
• Digestive - Breakdown proteins, carbohydrates, fats
• Pancreatic (animal)
• Plant-based (Fruits, fungi, bacterial)
Digestive enzymes

• Necessary to break down whole foods into absorbable form

• Found in saliva, stomach, pancreas and intestine
• Produced by probiotic bacteria in colon
• Both pancreatic and plant-based enzymes available in oral form
• Plant-derived enzymes offer advantages over pancreatic enzymes
Autism may affect the gut

• Inflammation
• Malabsorption
• Developmental delay
• Food allergies and other immune system problems
Some foods not tolerated in autism

• Wheat (gluten protein)

• Dairy (casein protein and/or lactose sugar)
• Soy protein
• Certain carbohydrates
• Polyphenolic compounds, oxalates, lectins
Restoring gut health 

• Provide healthy environment for probiotic bacteria

• Reduce inflammation as well as the cause
• Eliminate potential future allergen production
Restrictive diets often helpful

• Gluten-free Casein-free diet (GFCF)

• Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD)
• Low Oxalate Diet (LOD)
• Body Ecology Diet (BED)
• Gut and Psychology Diet (GAPS)
Oral enzymes complement diets

• Many diets now incorporate oral enzyme supplements

• Enzymes often used as alternative to some diets
• Enzymes can often achieve same goals as diets
• More specific
• Faster
• Less costly, more convenient
Diets may also be difficult

• Nutritional Insufficiency?
• Family lifestyles
• Cost and availability
Observed effects of enzymes 

• Speech starts or improves dramatically

• Better eye focus and contact
• Less stimming
• Improvements often noted by unknowing third parties
• Bowel movements improved
• Positive benefits often increased for those on diets
• Benefits are dependent upon many factors
How do enzymes help?

• Break down proteins differently, more thoroughly

• Prevent production of exorphin peptides
• Requires optimal blend of protease and peptidase enzymes
• Function in stomach, no peptide absorption occurs
• Modify polyphenolic compounds
• May mimic enzymes produced by probiotics?
• Break down carbohydrates
• Modify effect of stomach/pancreatic enzymes
Proteins: Digestive formation of casomorphin

x-x-x-x-x-x-x- -tyr-pro-phe-pro-glu- x-x-x-x-x-x-x-
x pro-ile- x

(1) (2) Elastase


Example: DPP IV peptidase

• Only known enzyme to degrade exorphin casomorphin

• Produced by cells in GI tract
• Found in commercially available protease blends
(Houston, 1999)
DPP IV effect on casomorphin


Casein amino acid sequence affected by DPP IV

x-x-x-x- tyr- phe- glu- il-x-x-x-x
pro- pro- pro- e
In Stomach

No casomorphin formed!
Blocked peptide formation by multiple proteases

x-x-x-x-tyr-pro- pro- pro- -x-x-x-x
phe- glu- ile
Protease 4.5 Protease 6.0

(1) (2) Elastase

Enzymes may help other foods

• Some indications of help with oxalates and lectins

• More obvious help for foods high in polyphenolics
• Apparent function is through modificaton of polyphenols,
not degradation
Polyphenolic compounds

• Very abundant in diet, several hundred identified in foods

• Chief interest is due to antioxidant potential
• Modulate the activity of wide range of enzymes/receptors
• Research areas mainly focus on role in oxidative stress
“Phenols” are different from polyphenolics

• Polyphenolics contain phenol structure

• Phenol itself is a toxic compound
• Phenols can be produced by protein fermentation in the gut
• Sulfation pathways are the primary means of inactivating phenol
• Phenol sulfotransferases, found in mucosa of gut, are necessary
for phenol removal
• Phenols and salicylates are similar compounds
Polyphenolics are complex and diverse compounds
Bioavailability of polyphenols

• Metabolism of polyphenols occurs via a common pathway

• Aglycones can be absorbed from the small intestine, however, most
polyphenols are present in food in the form of esters, glycosides, or
polymers that cannot be absorbed in their native form
• These substances must be hydrolyzed by intestinal enzymes or
colonic flora before they can be absorbed
• Only then can polyphenols be conjugated through methylation,
sulfation, and glucoronidation in the intestine and liver. This is a
detoxification process that limits toxic effects and facilitates
elimination through bile or urine
Intestinal absorption and metabolism
• In foods, all flavonoids except flavanols are found in glycosylated
form, which prevents them from being absorbed
• Only aglycones and some glucosides can be absorbed in the small
intestine, whereas polyphenols linked to a rhamnose, arabinose, or
xylose sugar must reach the colon and be hydrolyzed by enzymes
produced by the microflora before being absorbed
• Proanthocyanidins are very large polymers and are poorly absorbed;
they may produce their effects locally in the gut
• Hydroxycinnamic acids are naturally esterified in plants, and humans
do not have the esterase enzymes needed to allow these compounds
to be absorbed. Only the colonic flora can produce the enzymes
• Once absorbed, polyphenols are metabolized by the same pathways
as drugs, hormones, and neurotransmitters
Enzyme dosing

•Experimentation encouraged, no toxicity, safe dosing

•Try taking enzymes at beginning of meal

•Base dosing on size of meal, not body weight or age

•May be taken with most medications or other supplements

•Effective with first dose for digestive results

Reasons to try enzymes

• Results often seen faster than with diet

• Inexpensive
• No special medical attention or testing required
• May be a better fit to a family’s lifestyle, less stress
Devin Houston, PhD