Digestive enzymes are catalysts that help break down proteins, carbohydrates, and fats into a more simple form, enabling them to be absorbed by the body.
Digestion begins in the mouth, where amylase starts to break down carbohydrates. If you chew enough on a piece of whole wheat bread, you can detect a slightly sweet taste. This is the sugar that is being released as carbohydrates are broken down into more simple sugars. As the food moves into your stomach, gastric juices act on the proteins.
Once entering the intestine, the majority of the breaking down occurs when the pancreas and small intestine release amylase, protease, and lipase (these are your naturally occurring digestive enzymes) to make the final breakdown of the nutrients.
So, the question is: Do we really need to take enzyme supplements or is it simply a marketing ploy powered by supplement suppliers? The answer is, of course, it depends.
Symptoms of recurring digestive issues my acupuncture patients complain about are:
- a feeling of fullness after a few mouthfuls of food
- heaviness or a "stone in my stomach" feeling after eating
- stools are loose and have undigested food in them
If you experience any of the above, I recommending work with a health practitioner to get to the root cause of the problem.
Here are six possible causes of these digestive issues that may warrant supplementary enzymes:
1. You're stressed out.
When the gastric juices in your stomach are in any way impinged, like during periods of stress or occasional digestive upset, your body goes into "fight or flight" mode, making it harder to digest food properly.
2. You have intestinal damage.
The intestinal lining can be damaged from drugs, hormones, or steroids, from diseases like celiac disease, or through eating processed, packaged convenience food.*
These may suppress the immune system by altering the physiological function of the cell membrane in the intestine.
3. You have pancreatic issues.
The pancreas produces essential enzymes, so if they're not being produced or are insufficient, your doctor might recommend enzymes.
4. You have food allergies.
If you suffer from intestinal hyper-permeability, food allergies, or intolerances, this can also cause a decrease in digestive enzymes.
5. You have nutrient deficiencies.
Similarly, if you're suffering from malnutrition, iron deficiency, osteoporosis, general allergies, leaky gut syndrome, B12 deficiency, these can cause digestive problems.
Aging is generally associated with a decreased digestive function.
Which enzyme product should you choose?
Buying cheap products is a waste of your money. You can buy just a fruit-based enzyme with bromelain or papain, for example, which is extracted from papaya and pineapple, but these are weak. There are also animal-based enzymes, but these are unstable.
The best is to buy active plant enzymes with no sugar, wheat, gluten, or soy products. Check the label. The ingredients should show protease, amylase, and lipase and their relative quantities.
Are there any digestive-inhibiting foods should you avoid?
In general, foods that have been lightly cooked are easier to digest. Avoid processed foods, preservatives, additives, and foods with MSG added. Try to avoid fried and greasy foods, too much coffee or alcohol, ice cream, and excessive sugar.
It's important to note that every individual is different and requires a different style of food and cooking methods. It's impossible to say one style of "diet" is correct and will therefore work for everyone.
There are many reasons why one might need to take supplements, but it's important not to self-medicate and better to seek advice from a professional who can analyze your complaints and make an educated diagnosis.
It is true that enzymes are not always necessary and sometimes even the simple addition of certain foods can make a difference. However, for those who do need them, enzyme supplements can be life-changing.
Want more info? Check out:
- Why You Don't Feel Better On A Clean Diet (And How To Fix It)
- 5 Ways To Balance Your Digestive Health
- 8 Supplements To Heal A Leaky Gut
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