A question that comes up occasionally about the digestive aid Beano is, "Is it safe to use it?"
Beano is a preparation delivering a tiny dosage of a human digestive enzyme (made by bacteria which are killed in the manufacturing process) alpha-galactosidase.
In studies of children who need alpha-galactosidase as a mediation (for Fabry disease), about 1 in 20 develops an almost undetectably mild allergy to Beano in the course of 3 years. People with Fabry disease, however, take vastly more alpha-galactosidase than the average person who takes Beano to avoid gassiness from eating beans or vegetables.
There's no evidence Beano causes problems during pregnancy or nursing, but because it has never been tested for safety in expectant or nursing mothers, the manufacturer recommends they not use it. For almost everyone else, there should be very few problems even with very long use.
Is there a natural alternative to Beano?
If the question is whether there is a natural alternative for relieving gas that is as convenient as Beano, the answer is no. But if you plan ahead, the Mexican herb epazote, available in specialty markets in small packages as a whole herb, is probably as useful for preventing gas.
With an intense flavor I describe as a cross between fennel and tarragon, epazote is used in 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon additions to flavor beans, eggs, cheese dishes, moles, and soups. Epazote grown in Mexico is milder than the same herb grown in China or Southeast Asia. It acts in much the same way as the European herb boldo.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q. Is it possible to develop an allergy to Beano?
A. Yes, most people who take Beano develop antibiodies to it and eventually will have an "allergy that is not quite an allergy" to the product, if they use it every day. Allergic reactions to Beano, however, are very rare. Just how much using Beano may contribute to other food sensitivities has not been researched.
Q. Will Beano work after getting gas?
A. No, Beano prevents gas rather than treating it. However, if gassiness after eating foods with complex carbohydrates is an ongoing problem, using Beano will prevent future gas.
Q. Can Beano cause diarrhea?
A. I've heard of this, but the individual tried Beano again and didn't have a repeat of the problem. The reason diarrhea would occur probably has to do with nutrients being made more available to bacteria in the colon, so it's likely a combination of Beano and some probiotic yogurt, taking Beano on a trip where you're drinking a different water, etc.
Q. Can I take Beano instead of Lactaid, or Lactaid instead of Beano?
A. No. Beano helps you digest the complex sugars in beans and Lactaid helps you digest different complex sugars in milk. Similarly, Beano won't stop gas caused by eating cheese.
Q. Is Beano safe for diabetics?
A. According to a German food chemist, Udo Pollmer (he doesn't write in English, so I won't give you the link here), anytime you can digest carbohydrates that usually are not digestible you will get more sugar and more calories. He points out in one of his books that a bowl full of fiber (which isn't metabolized by Beano, but which I use as an example) actually releases more sugars than a bowl of ice cream if it is metabolized by gut bacteria. I've never heard of a diabetic having a serious problem after eating Beano, but I wouldn't be surprised if sugars do go up more than usual.
There is one kind of "diabetes" for which Beano would be a problem, galactosemia, but people who have this problem are usually much, much more sensitive to milk than to the foods typically with Beano.
Q. Does Beano work for fruit?
A. Not really well. The reason certain fruits, prunes, for instance, cause gas is they draw water into the colon. The increased "movement" in general releases more gas, faster.
Q. Is Beano safe during pregnancy?
A. There are no reports of problems linked to Beano during pregnancy or nursing, but, of course, nobody has ever run a clinical trial to see if Beano might make pregnant women sick, either (and no one ever will).