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About the Enzyme Alpha Galactosidase

by
author image Janet Renee, MS, RD
Janet Renee is a clinical dietitian with a special interest in weight management, sports dietetics, medical nutrition therapy and diet trends. She earned her Master of Science in nutrition from the University of Chicago and has contributed to health and wellness magazines, including Prevention, Self, Shape and Cooking Light.
About the Enzyme Alpha Galactosidase
Young woman with stomach pain at the doctor's office. Photo Credit JackF/iStock/Getty Images

Everyone experiences gas at one time or another. Gas in the digestive tract can cause abdominal pain, discomfort, flatulence and burping. Most people experience mild symptoms related to gas, which is normal. Others have an intolerance to complex carbohydrates. If this is the case, you may experience symptoms more frequently and with increased severity. Alpha-galactosidase is an enzyme that helps break down complex carbohydrates. You can find it as an over-the-counter dietary supplement, marketed for preventing gas.

A Gassy Experience

Intestinal gas is a common, often benign digestive complaint. Gas occurs because certain foods are not broken down completely, serving as food for bacteria. A wide variety of foods cause gas, particularly beans, whole grains, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and asparagus. Other foods that may cause gas include milk products, sodas and certain fruit, such as pears, apples and peaches. Foods that cause gas in one person may not cause gas in someone else.

Alpha-galactosidase Function

Your body makes various enzymes to break down and help digest the foods you eat -- it produces alpha-galactosidase to break down dietary sugars. Aspergillus niger is the source found in dietary supplements, and it is also found in especially high quantities in yeast, according to the NYU Langone Medical Center. Taken as a supplement, alpha-galactosidase helps prevent intestinal gas. The typical dose is 450 galactosidase units -- or GalU -- taken with each carbohydrate-containing meal.

Effectiveness of Alpha-galactosidase

Researchers conducted a double-blind placebo-controlled trial to determine the effectiveness of alpha-galactosidase on intestinal gas and gas-related symptoms in healthy volunteers. Eight participants took 300 or 1,200 GalU of alpha-galactosidase with a test meal containing cooked beans. Both doses significantly reduced the severity of all gas-related symptoms. Researchers noted that 1,200 GalU of alpha-galactosidase also significantly reduced breath hydrogen, which is a common indicator of gas. The study was published in the January 2007 issue of "Digestive Diseases and Sciences."

Supplement Safety

Alpha-glucosidase appears to be safe for healthy adults. However, you may need to avoid it if you have diabetes, or a genetic condition called galactosemia, which affects how your body processes sugar. Because alpha-glucosidase enhances carbohydrate absorption, it may raise your blood sugar. A class of diabetes drugs called alpha-glucosidase inhibitors blocks the alpha-glucosidase enzyme. Taking alpha-glucosidase supplements may reduce the effectiveness of this class of medications.

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