We take our digestion for granted and rarely think about different ways to improve our digestive health. This is a big mistake primarily because gut health plays a role in our overall wellbeing. What goes on in your stomach influences numerous processes in your body as well as your immune system.
Digestive enzymes play a major role in this process, but how much do you really know about them? The truth is, we don’t know as much as we should, and it’s time to change that. This post provides a useful insight into digestive enzymes and their roles. Scroll down to learn more about this significant topic.
Table of Contents [Show]
- Importance of gut health
- How does your body digest food?
- What are digestive enzymes?
- Types of digestive enzymes
- How to balance enzymes?
- Digestive enzyme supplements
- Do I need to take digestive enzyme supplements?
- How to take digestive enzyme supplements?
- How to find ideal digestive enzyme supplement?
Importance Of Gut Health
In order to understand digestive enzymes and their role, it is important to know as much as possible about gut health in general. Humans can carry about 2kg (4.4lbs) of microbes in their gut. Your gut is comprised of a multitude of bacteria.
The balance of good and bad bacteria plays an important role not only for your digestion but overall health as well. Below, you can see how your digestion and gut health influence various aspects of your health and wellbeing.
The relationship between gut health and weight is well-documented. For example, in one study the team of researchers at the Imperial College London investigated the phenomenon whereby animals and humans don’t seem to have the same outcomes when eating the same diet.
To find out why this happens, they analyzed the urine of mice with the purpose to determine the composition of their gut bacteria. The mice were genetically identical, which excludes any genetic influence on their weight. Then, scientists put mice on a high-fat diet and waited to see what will happen with their weight; the experiment yielded interesting results.
Findings, published in the Cell Reports revealed that some mice gained more or less weight than the others, depending on their gut composition. Interestingly enough, bacteria composition that was linked to metabolic issues was also associated with behavioral changes, including anxiety.
This study only confirms the relationship between gut and weight, and it demonstrates that the value of a diet is determined not only by your genes but gut as well.
Your gut also affects the cancer risk, and this is not just an assumption, but a fact based on science. In a study published in the Journal of Cancer Research, a group of US scientists discovered specific bacteria in the intestines that may have an impact on the development of lymphoma i.e. cancer of white blood cells. These bacteria are called Lactobacillus johnsonii.
Speaking at the 2013 Society for General Microbiology Autumn Conference scientists from the UK suggested that a common stomach bacterium with known links to duodenal ulcers and stomach cancer triggers the disease by disarming the immunity involved in controlling inflammation.
It is also important to mention that a study whose findings were published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine discovered the relationship between gut microbes and risk for colorectal cancer, one of the most common cancers in the world.
According to a study that appeared in the Cancer Treatment and Research, functional contributions of gut microbiota that may influence susceptibility to cancer are:
- Harvesting otherwise inaccessible nutrients and/or sources of energy from the diet
- Metabolism of xenobiotics, both beneficial and detrimental
- Renewal of gut epithelial cells and maintenance of mucosal integrity
- Affecting immune system development and activity
Even though stomach and mental state seem entirely unrelated, the reality is much different. What goes on in your stomach has a major influence on your mental wellbeing. Now, it comes as no wonder why doctors recommend a well-balanced diet that supports healthy digestion to their patients who are struggling with anxiety, depression, and other conditions.
The latest research on this topic was published on June 28, 2017, in the Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Behavioral Medicine. The study identified specific ways that bacteria from your gut interact with various brain regions to affect mood and behavior, in healthy individuals.
For the purpose of this research, they enrolled 40 healthy women and divided them into two groups based on the composition of gut microbiota. One group had more of Bacteroides bacterium, while the second group had more of the gut bacteria called Prevotella.
Their findings showed that Prevotella group displayed more robust white matter connectivity between attentional, emotional, and sensory processing brain regions. This group also experienced higher levels of negative feelings like distress, anxiety, and irritability.
As shown above, your gut plays a major role in susceptibility for the development of both physical and mental conditions. These are three of many examples that prove taking care of your digestion and gut health is vital if you want to be healthy and happy.
How Does Your Body Digest Food?
Now that you know the importance of digestive health, you are probably wondering where do enzymes step in. Well, they are essential for the digestion of food. In order to understand their role, we must take a closer look into digestion itself. How does our body digest food we consume?
Your digestive system consists of the gastrointestinal tract, liver, pancreas, and gallbladder. The gastrointestinal tract is, basically, a group of hollow organs connected in a long, twisting tube stretching from your mouth all the way down to the anus.
Organs that make up the gastrointestinal tract are:
- Small intestine
- Large intestine
Since these are hollow organs, liver, pancreas, and gallbladders are solid organs. All these organs work together to break down and digest the food you eat every day. Your gastrointestinal tract also comprises gut flora or microbiota that plays a role in digestion.
How Is Food Digested?
Although we are inclined to believe the digestion starts when food reaches the stomach, the onset of this operation starts in your mouth while you are chewing the food. That is why it is crucial to chewing food thoroughly before swallowing, so your body can digest it adequately. Here is the basic rundown of what comes next:
- After you swallow the food, food reaches the esophagus, which is the muscular tube whose function is to carry liquids and food from your mouth to stomach
- Swallowed food and liquid is stored in the stomach where they are mixed with the juice it produces. These juices contain digestive enzymes! Then, the stomach gradually empties its contents into the small intestine
- The muscles found in your small intestine mix food with digestive juices from the liver, pancreas, and intestine. Then, they push or release the mixture forward so the digestive process can continue. Small intestine’s walls absorb nutrients from food into your bloodstream. These nutrients reach other parts of your body through blood, of course
- Waste or unabsorbed products from the digestion process are pushed into the large intestine. This part of the gastrointestinal tract absorbs water and remaining nutrients and transforms waste from a liquid into stool
- Rectum stores stool until it is pushed out of your body during a bowel movement
As you can see, digestion is a complex process that requires the proper functioning of every organ that food reaches after you swallow it.
How Digestive Juices Break Down Food?
Juices in your stomach that break down food are comprised of digestive enzymes. They break up the food into different nutrients. Below, you can see how it works:
- The process starts, again, in your mouth where salivary glands produce saliva that moistens food in order to allow it to pass through the esophagus more easily. Also, saliva features enzyme that begins breaking down starches
- In stomach’s lining, glands produce stomach acid and an enzyme whose role is to break down protein
- The pancreas contains juice and enzymes that break down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. It is important to mention that pancreas sends these juices to your small intestine via small tubes named ducts
- The liver produces bile, which is then stored in the gallbladder between meals. When you eat, the gallbladder squeezes bile through bile ducts which connect this organ with small intestine and liver. In food, bile blends with the fat which is dissolved into the water content of your intestine
- The digestion is completed in the small intestine where digestive juices combine with pancreatic juice. Here, the digestion of proteins and starches is completed, as well
What Are Digestive Enzymes?
As shown above, digestive enzymes are vital for the process of digestion. But, what are they really? Enzymes are biological molecules or substances that our body produces in order to digest food properly.
Different parts of the body secrete these enzymes, and they help to break down the food into different types of nutrients. Your body needs these nutrients in order to function properly and stay healthy.
We can consider digestive enzymes as catalysts that accelerate specific life-preserving chemical reactions in your body. They are released in anticipation of food and as the body’s response to food.
The pH value in your mouth, stomach, and small intestine must be in a certain range in order to unlock or activate these essential enzymes. Every group of enzymes requires different pH, which only confirms the complexity of operations that occur in our stomach and we are not even aware of them.
For instance, your stomach has to be acidic in order to break down proteins while small intestine needs to be alkaline for degrading of fats and carbohydrates. Numerous factors, primarily unhealthy diet, have a negative impact on pH value in these organs and, thus, make the secretion of enzymes and entire digestive process significantly difficult.
Inadequate secretion of digestive enzymes does not allow our body to absorb nutrients from food entirely. What does this mean? Even if you strive to eat a well-balanced, healthy diet, your body doesn’t absorb all those valuable nutrients due to the lack of enzymes.
We take our digestive health for granted even though organs and enzymes work hard to ensure every nutrient counts. To avoid potential complications that occur due to poor digestion, strive to have a healthy lifestyle. Your gut and your body will thank you.
Types Of Digestive Enzymes
The human body produces different types of digestive enzymes to get the most out of the food you eat i.e. to absorb as much of each nutrient as it can. The most prevalent types of digestive enzymes are mentioned and explained below as well as why you should care for ensuring sufficient amounts of the enzymes, primarily obtained through supplements.
Amylase is an enzyme that is responsible for digestion of carbohydrates because it breaks down starches into sugars. The enzyme is present in your saliva where it begins the digestion process. Remember, salivary gland secretes an enzyme that starts breaking down starches. Besides salivary glands, Amylase is also produced in the pancreas.
Besides participating indigestion, amylase has many other benefits, and some of them include:
- Energy Boost – Glucose is the main sugar molecule that your body uses to produce energy. Even though an excessive amount of glucose in your body is not a good thing, the sufficient amount is necessary for energy and amylase to make sure you get it. How? Amylase breaks down starch into maltose and isomaltose, sugary units. Then, other enzymes called maltase and isomaltase hydrolyze these sugars into glucose
- Diabetes Management – A study whose findings were published in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research discovered that whenever blood sugar levels were higher in diabetic participants, their serum amylase activity was notably lower. Research from the Cardiovascular Diabetology discovered that lower levels of serum amylase were strongly associated with increased risk of metabolic abnormalities and diabetes
- Stress Measurement – Chronic stress is a major threat to your health. Amylase turns out to be a practical and effective marker of stress levels in your body. One study found that salivary alpha-amylase is sensitive to psychological stress and maybe a helpful additional parameter for stress measurement
You will be surprised to know that both plants and animals have amylase as well. Natural dietary sources of this enzyme include raw vegetables and fruits, sprouted seeds, legumes, nuts, and whole grains. Royal jelly is also a great source of the enzyme.
Lactase is an enzyme whose role is to break down milk sugar lactose into glucose and galactose. Persons with lactase deficiency experience symptoms of lactose intolerance. If you’re intolerant to dairy, now you know why. The enzyme is produced mainly along the brush border membrane in the small intestine. Benefits of lactase are numerous, and some of them are:
- Lactose Intolerance – As mentioned above, persons with low lactase activity usually deal with lactose intolerance. A major benefit of this enzyme is that it allows your body to digest and get all the nutrients from dairy
- Reduced Gas and Bloating – Lactase prevents and reduces flatulence
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Reduction – Sufficient levels of lactase activity in your body plays a role in reduction of IBS symptoms and allows you to manage the condition more easily
- Soothes Digestive Tract Irritation – Decreased secretion of lactase contributes to diarrhea and other illnesses affecting your gut. Lactase eases responses like loose stools and indigestion
Lipase is a digestive enzyme whose role is to break down fats we consume in our diet into fatty acids and glycerol, a simple sugar alcohol. Larger amounts of the enzyme are produced in the pancreas, but smaller amounts are secreted in saliva, blood, digestive juice, and breast milk.
Due to the fact it breaks down fat and allows your body to absorb it, lipase takes part in numerous functions within your body. Why should you care about lipase and its activity? Here are some reasons:
- IBS Management – Just like many other enzymes which prevent or help manage digestive disorders, lipase proves to be incredibly useful. Some patients with IBS may have exocrine pancreatic insufficiency i.e. the inability to adequately digest food because pancreas does not produce sufficient level its enzymes, and lipase is one of them
- Cystic Fibrosis Management – Persons with this disorder produce abnormally thick, sticky mucus and often experience nutritional deficiencies as mucus blocks pancreatic enzymes from reaching intestines. Therefore, intake of pancreatic enzymes including Lipase helps your body absorb vital nutrients
- Cardiovascular Health – Bearing in mind that lipase helps break down fats, deficiency in this enzyme leads to a higher, unhealthy levels of cholesterol. You already know that higher cholesterol levels are a massive threat to cardiovascular health
- Weight Loss – What most of us fail to recognize is that lipase is the key to a successful and safe weight loss due to its primary role to break down fat, instead of allowing your body to store it
Maltase is an enzyme that breaks down maltose or malt sugar to the simple sugar glucose. The enzyme is synthesized by cells of the mucous membrane lining the intestinal wall. During the digestion process, your body uses amylase to partially transform starch into maltose. Then, maltase which is secreted by the intestine converts maltose into glucose.
To some extent, maltase helps relieve the burden of digestion on the small intestine and pancreas. Without this enzyme, your small intestine would find it difficult to break down starches and sugars. Sufficient levels of maltase in your body can lead to these benefits:
- Preventative and Support Mechanism for Digestive Complaints in Autistic Children – evidence shows that problems with digestion may contribute to the behavioral issues of the non-verbal autistic patients. Lower amounts of enzymes in the gut, including maltase, can worsen behavioral symptoms in children, which is why ensuring a sufficient level of maltase is a great way to prevent and support these complaints
- Chronic Diarrhea Management and Support – people with chronic diarrhea tend to have lower activity of digestive enzymes such as maltase. Adequate maltase levels reduce irritation and excess gut mucosal secretions
Protease, also known as proteolytic enzyme, peptidase, and proteinase, is a digestive enzyme responsible for breaking down different kinds of proteins. They are primarily secreted by your pancreas. Besides assisting in the breakdown of proteins, protease enzymes also digest the cell walls of unwanted harmful organisms in your body and break down wastes like toxins, cellular debris, and undigested proteins.
Basically, protease enzymes help to digest wastes and small stuff to allow the immune system to avoid toxin overload and remain strong. Like other enzymes, protease benefits your health in different ways, such as:
- IBS Management – as you can already assume, this is yet another enzyme that can help you make IBS more manageable by supporting colon health
- Skin Health – evidence shows that protease supports cellular repair in cases of skin burns (and stomach ulcers)
- Cardiovascular and Brain Health – protease enzymes slow down or stop irritation by neutralizing the biochemicals linked with the response. This shows potential in support for cardiovascular and brain health
- Gut Health – protease activities provide the cells with essential amino acids which are important for the growth of good bacteria in your gut
Sucrase is a digestive enzyme produced in the small intestine. The role of this enzyme is to break down complicated sugars into simple sugars such as glucose and fructose. Another important function of the enzyme is the ability to eliminate viruses and break down damaged tissues. As a result, they contribute to the growth of tissue and reduced inflammation. Some, of many, health benefits of sucrase include:
- Stronger Immune System – Thanks to their ability to eliminate viruses and repair tissues, sucrase enzymes make your immune system stronger and allow it to resist viruses and other illnesses more efficiently
- Antioxidant Support – Sucrase enzymes have many antioxidant properties which allow them to provide defense against bacterial infestations and gut fermentation due to oxidation
- Combating Ulcers – Sucrase helps reduce stomach toxicity primarily because sugars don’t remain in stomach too long to induce toxic fermentation
How To Balance Enzymes?
Different organs in our body produce enzymes that break down different foods, we have already established that. Numerous factors affect the activity of these enzymes and cause imbalances. For example:
- Aging process
- Brush border dysfunction e.g. Celiac disease
- Chronic stress
- Low stomach acid
- Low-grade inflammation in the digestive tract
- Pancreatic problems including cystic fibrosis, acute and chronic pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer
A healthy lifestyle that supports digestive health is crucial for the adequate balance of digestive enzymes. It is possible to improve digestion of food and breakdown of different nutrients. Below, you can see various things you can do to address enzyme deficiencies:
- Avoid Common Nutrition Mistakes – Some diet-related habits you repeat on a daily basis have a negative impact on enzyme production. For example, processed foods and beverages are highly popular nowadays, but they have no enzymes and usually include artificial ingredients your body can’t recognize. Another common mistake that people make is eating foods that aren’t meant to be eaten together e.g. fruits with oatmeal, meat with starches
- Combine Cooked Foods With Raw Vegetables and sprouts – This simple action has a purpose of balancing your cooked meals by enhancing the enzyme content of the food you consume
- Increase Consumption of Raw Food – Digestive enzymes are also found in fruits, vegetables, and seeds. While cooking, especially at higher temperatures, these enzymes are not active anymore. Therefore, your body can’t use them. When you eat, your body needs enzymes to break down these foods, but since they were destroyed by the heat, it has no other choice but to produce enzymes. Over time, the body’s ability to produce digestive enzymes depletes
- Pay More Attention to Food Sensitivity – It is not uncommon for people to realize some foods are causing digestive problems, but they continue eating them anyway and hope those problems will go away. For enzyme balance (and your overall health for that matter) it is of huge importance to pay more attention to allergies and food sensitivity. When some food is causing these problems, don’t eat it
Digestive Enzyme Supplements
Health conditions can negatively affect the secretion of digestive enzymes, and there is also a natural aging process. As you age, the production of these enzymes starts decreasing. For some people, making diet changes isn’t enough to ensure sufficient synthesis of digestive enzymes. They usually benefit from digestive enzyme supplements. These are the products specifically formulated to support digestive health and production of much-needed enzymes.
Digestive enzyme supplements such as MAV Nutrition Digestive Enzymes usually come at affordable prices; which is always good to know particularly if you are on a tight budget. When buying these products, you will rarely see the name of a specific enzyme on the packaging. Instead, you will come across supplements which promote digestive health and support the full spectrum of digestive enzymes.
Additionally, it is possible to find supplements with probiotic effects or products in multivitamin form. Although they are more expensive than “regular” digestive enzyme supplements, they are more practical as you don’t have to take multiple products throughout the day.
Do I Need To Take Digestive Enzyme Supplements?
Due to a hectic lifestyle characterized by constant stress and unhealthy diet, the popularity of digestive enzyme supplements keeps growing. Some people use these products to support digestive health, while others want to tackle some health condition.
You are probably wondering if you should also give these products a try. These products are primarily beneficial for individuals who are dealing with:
- Age-related enzyme deficiency
- Digestive diseases: gas, acid reflux, leaky gut, bloating, Crohn’s disease, IBS, diverticulitis, ulcerative colitis, malabsorption, constipation, diarrhea
- Hypochlorhydria (insufficient amount of stomach acid)
- Liver disease
You should also consider taking digestive enzyme supplements such as Restore 3 if you have:
- Deficiency in vitamins A and D
- Gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea and flatulence
- Iron deficiency or vitamin B12 deficiency
- Sensation that food is sitting in your stomach (like you swallowed a rock, not food)
- Stool changes e.g. stool is pale and floats
- Undigested food in stool
How To Take Digestive Enzyme Supplements?
Reading the manufacturer’s instructions is a must. Directions for use are clearly stated on the packaging, and you should follow those instructions religiously, as well as the dosage. Digestive enzyme supplements are usually taken in two ways:
- On An Empty Stomach – this way, they are more like vacuum cleaners than pre-digestion products. It is not uncommon for people to take these supplements on an empty stomach to cleanse toxins or reduce inflammation, but you should consult your doctor before doing so (particularly if the label suggests you should take capsules on a full stomach)
- On Full Stomach – taking enzymes while you eat reduces stress on small intestine and pancreas
How To Find Ideal Digestive Enzyme Supplement?
Since dietary supplements are incredibly popular nowadays, you can easily find hundreds or thousands of products that support the production of enzymes. Although these items have the same goal, they aren’t equal. While some supplements are effective and do their job, others aren’t.
In order to avoid spending money on ineffective products and to make sure your digestive tract gets the enzyme to support it needs, you should follow these tips for finding the perfect product:
- Manufacturer – you don’t really want to buy a supplement made by a company whose reputation is awful. When you are looking for digestive enzyme supplements, you should also consider the reputation that surrounds that brand
- Quality – make sure you get the best value for your money. Get informed about the product itself and see what it offers or how it can benefit your digestive health
- Source – digestive enzyme supplements use three sources for their enzymes: fruit (isolated from pineapple and papaya), animals, and plants. Go for the type of enzyme source that matches your needs and preferences
- Potency/Strength Listed – enzymes are rated on different scales, but the important thing is that the manufacturer should show the strength of enzymes found in the product
- Money-Back Guarantee – of course, you want the option to get a refund if you find the supplement ineffective
Digestive enzymes break down food and allow your body to absorb the much-needed nutrients. They are vital for healthy digestion and optimal gut health. A healthy lifestyle is important for sufficient enzyme production, but dietary supplements are also helpful, particularly for people with different health conditions.
Feature Image: Istockphoto.com
In-Post Image: Istockphoto.com, visually.com & pureformulas.com