Food Allergies Find A New Foe
Will enzymes alleviate food allergies?
Naturopaths and holistic medical doctors have long used pancreatic enzyme preparations to treat patients with food allergies or intolerances. A recent double-blind trial seems to bolster rationale for this practice. Researchers gave 10 participants a food they tested allergic to and measured their reaction. Then they gave the volunteers the food again, but with a pancreatic enzyme preparation. Compared with no enzymes, administration of the pancreatic enzymes markedly reduced the severity of the food-induced symptoms in all 10 patients.1 Conventionally, pancreatic enzymes have been used only as digestive aids for pancreatic diseases, such as pancreatitis, in which inadequate enzymes are produced. Little work has been done on food allergies and enzyme preparations. This trial is a good start.
It is not clear how pancreatic enzymes block allergic reactions. It may be that the enzymes break down large, allergenic proteins into smaller, nonallergenic molecules. It's important to note only animal-derived pancreatic enzymes were used in this study. Vegetable-based enzyme preparations may have the same effect, but this result hasn't been proven. In addition, the symptoms that improved, such as diarrhea and abdominal bloating, appear related to gastrointestinal distress only. There is no evidence that taking pancreatic enzymes can prevent the often life-threatening reactions some allergic people experience when they eat foods such as peanuts or shellfish. Given those caveats, researchers conclude the use of pancreatic enzymes is a new possible adjuvant treatment option for patients with food allergies.
High-dose Vitamin E May Ease Arthritis
Can vitamin E be used to treat rheumatoid arthritis?
The idea that vitamin E may control some of the pain and inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis has some validity. Three studies in the past few years looked at this question, and all showed a positive response.2,3,4 Two of them examined the effects of vitamin E used with conventional therapy, and the third compared vitamin E supplementation to standard treatment. All three showed improvements in pain scores. People taking vitamin E in conjunction with standard treatment showed greater improvement than with standard treatment alone; however, not all the studies showed changes in inflammation.
The major function of vitamin E is probably to act as a chain-breaking antioxidant that prevents free radicals from forming. Therefore, vitamin E's therapeutic benefits have primarily been attributed to its antioxidant effects. There are certainly other natural therapies to investigate for rheumatoid arthritis treatment, but it appears supplementing with vitamin E should be included as part of a comprehensive program. All three studies used 1,200 mg vitamin E, a fairly high dose. Taking this amount of vitamin E is best done under a doctor's supervision. The recommended tolerable upper limit of vitamin E is 1,000 mg per day, equivalent to 1,100 IU synthetic vitamin E and 1,500 IU natural vitamin E. High doses of vitamin E may hinder blood clotting, so people with vitamin K deficiencies or those taking anticoagulant or antiplatelet drugs should be monitored.
Vitamins Make Babies Better
Is it true certain vitamins may increase the chances of conception?
Recent work appears to support the idea that some common nutrients may help couples trying to conceive. Long-term supplementation with zinc sulfate and folic acid appears to substantially increase normal sperm count in both subfertile and fertile men, according to a study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility.5 In this trial, the researchers put men with both low and normal sperm counts on high doses of folic acid (5 mg per day) and zinc (66 mg per day) for 26 weeks. The men with low sperm count increased their counts by 74 percent on average. Fertile men had similar results. Men had to take both supplements, though. If they took just one or the other there were no significant changes in sperm count. Additionally, levels of zinc and folate in the blood were the same for both groups of men. It's an interesting study that emphasizes both the power of nutritional supplementation and how much we don't know about assessing vitamin requirements.
Although I am comfortable recommending long-term, high-dose folic acid supplementation, similar zinc supplementation should be monitored. Long-term zinc supplementation may cause other mineral deficiencies, particularly copper. The RDA for zinc is 11 mg per day for a man. The upper safe limit of 40 mg is based on studies showing high levels of zinc adversely affect copper absorption.
Dan Lukaczer, N.D., is director of clinical research at the Functional Medicine Research Center, a division of Metagenics Inc., in Gig Harbor, Wash.
1. Raithel M, et al. Pancreatic enzymes: a new group of antiallergic drugs? Inflamm Res 2002;51 Suppl 1:S13-4.
2. Edmonds SE, et al. Putative analgesic activity of repeated oral doses of vitamin E in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Results of a prospective placebo-controlled, double-blind trial. Ann Rheum Dis 1997;56(11):649-55.
3. Helmy M, et al. Antioxidants as adjuvant therapy in rheumatoid disease. A preliminary study. Arzneimittelforschung 2001;51(4):293-8.
4. Wittenborg A, et al. Effectiveness of vitamin E in comparison with diclofenac sodium in treatment of patients with chronic polyarthritis. Z Rheumatol 1998;57(4):215-21.
5. Wong WY, et al. Effects of folic acid and zinc sulfate on male factor subfertility: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Fertil Steril 2002;77(3):491-8.
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