ALLERGY: ENZYME DEFECTS

The body requires enzymes for many of its chemical reactions. For digestion, many different enzymes are needed to help break down and metabolise foods. Some people are deficient in specific enzymes and simply cannot digest certain foods properly. A number of these defects are well known and have specific symptoms. One of the most common is a deficiency of lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose, the sugar found in milk and milk products. The symptoms that result are diarrhoea, wind and a distended abdomen, and this can be a very serious condition in babies. Lactase deficiency can be inherited, or it can develop later in life. Lactase levels are reduced by a stomach upset or gastro-enteritis, and lactose intolerance can follow such an illness for a temporary period. Levels of lactase decrease with age, as well, so adults can also develop the condition.

Some people cannot fully metabolise alcohol, because they lack the specific enzyme required. It is known that up to 40 per cent of Japanese people are deficient in this enzyme, and they can suffer from flushing and other symptoms.

There are other documented enzyme defects besides these, and a specialist doctor may be able to identify them if you have a clear pattern of symptoms.

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