Intestinal gas is not only socially embarrassing, but it can cause unpleasant symptoms such as abdominal bloating and generalized abdominal discomfort. For some people, the problem is diet-related, but for others no specific foods or group of foods can be identified as a cause of the problem. In frustration, some gas sufferers turn to over-the-counter digestive enzymes to treat the problem. Are enzymes for intestinal gas effective?
Enzymes for Intestinal Gas
One of the most common causes of intestinal gas is lactase deficiency. Lactose is a sugar found in dairy products such as milk and cheese. Up to 75% of the worldwide population is unable to digest this sugar by the time they reach adulthood, because they lack the lactase enzyme to break it down. When lactose isn’t broken down properly, it passes undigested into the colon where it’s fermented by bacteria. This produces large amounts of intestinal gas, bloating and diarrhea.
In this case, supplying the missing enzyme in the form of lactase reduces the production of intestinal gas that makes lactose intolerant people so uncomfortable. An example of such a product is Lactaid, a pill containing lactase that people with lactose intolerance chew before they consume dairy products. This can significantly reduce the amount of intestinal gas they produce.
When Intestinal Gas Isn’t Due to Lactose Intolerance
Not everyone who produces large amounts of gas is lactose intolerant. In fact, not everyone who thinks they produce too much gas actually do. It’s normal to pass gas up to fourteen times a day, but some people are more sensitive to the gas they pass than others. If the amount of gas a person produces is really excessive, are there are other digestive enzymes that help?
There are various digestive enzymes sold at pharmacies and health food stores that are formulated to treat excessive gas. One such product, Beano, contains enzymes that break down the indigestible carbohydrates found in beans, some fresh vegetables and whole grains.
According to a small study published in Journal of Family Practice, taking Beano with a meal reduces the number of times a person passes gas for up to six hours after a meal, but it’s less effective for treating abdominal bloating. Even though this study was small, it does lend support to the idea that Beano reduces flatus in people who eat beans, certain vegetables and whole grains.
Other Enzymes for Intestinal Gas
Pharmacies sell other digestive enzyme preprations that claim to relieve gas. They usually contain a combination of enzymes similar to the ones the pancreas produces to digest food. So far, there aren’t a lot of good studies showing that these store-bought enzymes work, although some people claim they get relief from them. It’s not clear whether the body can actually use these enzymes since stomach acid may break them down before they exert their benefits – if they actually do help. Since these enzymes are safe, for people who have a lot of gas, they may be worth a try.
The Bottom Line?
Some types of enzymes for intestinal gas may be beneficial, particularly Lactaid for intestinal gas. Beano may also be helpful for people who eat a lot of beans and vegetables. On the other hand, it’s questionable whether other types of digestive enzymes from health food stores have any benefits.
Journal of Family Practice.18 Aug, 2009.
Family Practice 1994 Nov 39 441-445.