A Guide To Digestive Enzymes
By Sara Novak
Digestion is a complicated process. It is all about turning the foods you eat into energy, nutrients, and waste. The entire body works together in this stunning process that results in you getting the nutrients and energy you need to thrive. And if you are not thriving, your digestive enzymes could be to blame. Let’s take a closer look.
Table Of Contents:
- How Digestion Works
- How Digestive Enzymes Work
- What Are The Main Digestive Enzymes And What Do They Do?
How Digestion Works:
Food is chewed up and travels down the esophagus to the stomach. The small intestine continues the process of breaking food down. In the stomach, gastric acid mixes with mucus and digestive enzymes to get the job done. Without these ever important enzymes in the body, you might have trouble breaking the foods you eat down.
Once the foods are broken down, your body absorbs the various nutrients found in carbohydrates, fats, and proteins into the small intestine and the bloodstream. Food is separated into energy and nutrients, while the rest makes its way out of the body in the form of urine and feces.
The kidneys filter out waste in the form of urine via the bladder. The last stop for waste is a bowel movement. When bowel movements are not normal, it is often the result of some shortcoming in the digestive process. Diarrhea happens when waste passes through the large intestine too quickly and has too much water. With constipation, the opposite is true.
How Digestive Enzymes Work:
The body makes a number of digestive enzymes meant for breaking down certain categories of foods for example protein, carbohydrates, and fats. The majority of the body’s digestive enzymes are made in the stomach, small intestine, and the pancreas. Additionally, as you chew, your salivary glands start producing digestive enzymes that help get the process started. Properly chewing your food, at least 32 times before swallowing, is really important because it helps produce enough digestive enzymes to break down the foods you eat.
What Are The Main Digestive Enzymes And What Do They Do?:
Amylase is an enzyme that breaks down starch, specifically carbohydrates, into smaller molecules called maltose. There are three different types of amylase: alpha, beta, and gamma and each attacks the carbohydrate molecular bonds differently. Produced by the salivary glands, alpha-amylase is the most available type of amylase found in the human body. Alpha-amylase is also produced by the pancreas and the small intestine to work on breaking down starches. You may recognize amylase from well known products like Beano, which are often taken before eating foods that are difficult for the body to break down. These foods include cruciferous vegetables like kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and legumes. These ferment in the gut, causing gas bubbles to form and resulting in bloating, cramping, and a generally uncomfortable feeling. This is why eating these foods are generally not recommended.
Lipases are enzymes that break down fats. The role of lipase is so important to digestion because of the way they move lipids through the digestive system. The enzyme works on triglycerides, (a type of fat sourced from glycerol that has three chain fatty acids) as well as fats and oils. Bile, produced by the liver, starts by breaking down the external layer of fat droplets so that lipase can break in and start working on them. The enzyme is found in blood, stomach acid, the pancreas, and the intestines. Additionally, when you eat, lipase is produced along the digestive tract. You must have a certain level of lipase in your body for normal bodily and cell function.
If your body does not produce enough lipase, it may result in weight loss, oily stools, upset stomach, diarrhea, nausea, and sometimes vomiting. Doctors can administer a blood test to look at the level of lipase produced in the body to see if you are deficient.
Trypsin is a digestive enzyme that works on proteins. Produced in the pancreas, it makes its way into the small intestine through the bile duct in the liver. Proteins make it all the way to the stomach before the crucial process begins. Hydraulic acid and trypsin combine forces to take down protein into smaller chains of amino acids. Once they reach the small intestine, they are further broken down into individual amino acids, which are the building blocks of life. Once broken down into amino acids, the body uses them for growth, repairing tissue, and performing bodily functions.
Trypsin is really important because if you do not have enough of it, you may suffer from malabsorption or an inability to extract the nutrients that you need from the foods you eat. This can cause deficiencies in important nutrients, and in some cases, it can even cause malnutrition. Doctors can also check the levels of trypsin in your body to test for pancreatitis, or an inflammation of the pancreas. Trypsin has also been shown to heal, especially mouth sores and ulcers. A study published in the journal Advances in Therapy found that trypsin may be effective at healing tissue damage. The study authors write “it provides better resolution of inflammatory symptoms and promotes speedier recovery of acute tissue injury when compared to several of the other existing enzyme preparations.”
Learn More: The Top 4 Probiotics For Women
Bromelain is another digestive enzyme used in the body to break down proteins. Interestingly, bromelain is derived from the stem, juice, and pulp of pineapple and is usually taken in supplement form. The extract has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. Research has shown that bromelain may have anti-inflammatory qualities for surgeries. A study published in the Journal of Pakistan Medical Association found that “literature suggests the promising role of bromelain in surgical care.” Other research, published in the journal Acta Otorhinolaryngologica Italica, found that it may be used as an anti-inflammatory agent for nasal allergies.
Papain is another proteolytic enzyme that is used in the body to break down proteins into peptides and amino acids. It is derived from papayas and has all sorts of uses in traditional medicine. Since papain is so effective at breaking down the proteins in meats, it is often used as an active ingredient in meat tenderizers. This helps to break down the connective tissues in meat that can make it tougher and harder to chew. Research has shown that papain also has some very important uses in your body. A study published in the journal Neuro-Endocrinology Letters found that “papaya preparation contributes to the maintenance of digestive tract physiology.” Another study published in Nutrition Review found that papain may have anti-inflammatory qualities. The review highlighted a “wide range of benefits relative to anti-inflammatory, vasculoprotective, and immuno-modulatory effects.”
This is probably the most well known of all of the digestive enzymes because so many people seem to be allergic to lactose, the sugar found in dairy. As a result, you can buy milk that is free of lactose as well as creamer and ice cream. Lactase is the digestive enzyme responsible for digesting dairy and if you do not have enough of it naturally or your body does not produce it, you may experience gas, bloating, cramping, diarrhea, and other stomach issues when you eat these foods.
However, some research has shown that fermented dairy products are often much more well tolerated because the good bacteria helps to break down the lactose so it doesn’t cause problems in the digestive tract. This is another reason why eating ample fermented foods including kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, and some cottage cheeses is really important for digestive health.
When you eat lactose, lactase from the small intestine breaks it down into two simple sugars, glucose and galactose. Once they are broken down to simple sugars, it is easy for the body to absorb them into the bloodstream, where they are turned into important energy for the body.
Why It Is Important To Ensure You Are Not "Deficient" In Enzymes?:
Your body makes digestive enzymes in the mouth, stomach, small intestines, and in the pancreas. The body uses these enzymes to break down the various components of the foods we eat including carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. When foods are not properly digested they build up in the body. Fats become rancid, carbohydrates ferment, and proteins putrefy, which can cause a wide spectrum symptoms. If your digestion is slow and uncomfortable, you may experience:
- Weight loss
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Oily, discolored stools
A number of foods contain digestive enzymes including pineapple, papaya, avocado, bananas, kefir, and sauerkraut. Our diets often do not include enough of these ever important enzymes because they are too processed and deplete of the whole foods that we need to stay healthy. A diet that includes more raw foods is another way to add more enzymes to your diet. Cooking foods for too long also kills many of the digestive enzymes found in your diet. Enzymes are the “energy catalysts” in our bodies. They are the worker bees that help to run our body’s systems under the radar.
Additionally, even if you do eat a primarily whole foods diet, the soil where many of the foods you eat are grown is often depleted of the nutrients and enzymes necessary. In the United States, we tend to farm monoculture, meaning that we farm one item instead of polyculture, where the farm is tilled multiple times per year and planted with multiple crops. This, along with the use of pesticides and insecticides, creates dead zones in and around the crops, meaning that soil is not nutrient rich and may not contain what we need to thrive. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it might be worth considering adding digestive enzymes to your repertoire. When you have the enzymes you need to thrive your body is able to carry toxins out and remove waste, purify your blood, feed your brain, build muscle, and balance out your endocrine system.
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The problem with today’s diet is that we do not get enough of the enzymes we need from the foods we eat because those foods are heavily processed and often cooked down so much that it kills off the ever important enzymes needed to help our body absorb nutrients. Part of the reason that legumes are so hard for the body to digest is because we lack the enzymes needed to break them down. Many of the food intolerances that we blame on allergies are really the result of a lack of necessary digestive enzymes.
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