”I help people to connect the dots, as far as what may be happening in their body,” says Renee Barasch, owner of Nutritional Health Solutions, in Highland Park. Barasch, a certified digestive health specialist and enzyme therapist, helps clients to improve digestive and overall health through the use of enzyme therapy.
An enzyme is the smallest kind of protein molecule, and serves as a catalyst for the body to absorb and use vitamins and minerals for healthy overall function, including nutrient usage, digestion and elimination. Most enzymes enter our bodies from the food we eat. When enzyme levels are low, the entire body gets slowly out of whack, and daily digestive misery can set in. Other less obvious symptoms of improper digestion may include allergies, poor sleep, headaches, sugar and carb cravings, skin inflammations like eczema and psoriasis, and even hormonal imbalances.
Barasch believes that the Western diet and large-scale food production practices contribute to digestive difficulties. Modern packaged and processed food is heated to high temperatures that destroy natural enzymes, she explains. After years of eating these foods, the body becomes depleted of enzymes and cannot make enough on its own to keep up with the demands of daily digestion. The resulting symptoms—gas, bloating, heartburn, acid reflux, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)–send millions to seek relief from acid reducers and proton pump inhibiting drugs.
“Medications don’t help to correct the root cause of the problem,” says Barasch. “They turn off the symptoms and make people feel better, but they typically are not healing the body. Proton pump inhibitors only shut off stomach acid; they don’t help to digest food. With long-term use, many people start to get allergies, fatigue and cravings and sometimes must limit their diet.”
Most of Barasch’s clients have long suffered, but not found relief, despite negative or inconclusive examinations. Her approach is different, and does not involve endoscopy or high-tech hospital tests. At an initial consultation, Barasch talks with a client to review diet and thoroughly uncover what they regularly eat and what seems to affect digestion. She uses the opportunity to suggest dietary modifications that may help ease symptoms and reduce distress. Then she checks for possible enzyme deficiencies and improper vitamin and mineral absorption with a 24-hour urine analysis.
“The analysis helps show whether the client’s body can properly break down fats, carbs and proteins,” she explains. “How well the body can or cannot absorb minerals and vitamins can indicate an enzyme deficiency.”
Follow-up results include an office visit and a hands-on exam to check for muscle contractions around digestive organs that may be stressed due to digestive overwork or inactivity. If indicated, Barasch will recommend therapeutic-grade enzyme blends and a probiotic, as well as a short-term treatment plan. “Relief can sometimes come at their next meal,” Barasch says, adding that results typically depend on how long the digestive problems have been occurring and how long it takes someone’s body to repair and rejuvenate.
After growing up in Lincolnwood, Barasch attended college in Arizona and returned to Chicago. She was certified as a massage therapist in 1993 by the Chicago School of Massage Therapy and opened a practice in Lake Forest, which she later moved to Highland Park. Due torepeated wrist injuries, Barasch sold her practiceto a colleague and began to manage a local chiropractor’s office. It was here that she finally put her own dots together and found her calling as an enzyme therapist.
“I had digestive problems for years,” she says. “I went twice a month for colon hydrotherapy, which brought me some relief. But the actual symptoms never went away.” The chiropractor she worked with suggested she try enzyme therapy to improve her digestion, and referred her to Loomis Institute Of Enzyme Nutrition, in Madison, Wisconsin. “A month-and-a-half into the therapy, I realized I no longer needed to schedule my colonic, and a lightbulb went on over my head,” she recalls. “I also noticed my hormonal acne was gone, as were my sugar cravings. My bowels had regulated and my sleep greatly improved. I decided I wanted to take Dr. Loomis’ enzyme therapy certification program, to be able to help other people.”
After receiving her certification, Barasch began work at Therapeutic Kneads, in Highland Park. By combining enzyme therapy and massage, she can treat digestive issues, muscle contractions and stomach pain. Barasch also offers detox footbath treatments to help clear the body of digestive and environmental toxins.
After finding her own relief and seeing the difference she can make in the lives of others, Barasch is convinced that the tiny enzyme is the key to it all. “If you replace what’s missing in today’s food to begin with, the body can then do what it needs to do,” Barasch states. “Many digestive and related conditions can be supported by replacing what’s missing—that’s where the magic is—putting the enzyme back in.”