Digestive enzymes make it possible for the body to digest and process food and absorb nutrients. Your gut is the center of your health. That’s because everything we eat and drink, including our medicines, enters our bodies through the digestive tract. When this food mixture reaches the end of the GI tract, it encounters a patchwork of enzymes.
Ingesting enzymes is a common practice for increasing digestive health. Learn more about the enzymes, their benefits, and how they work to improve your health.
Quick Jump Table
What is the function of digestive enzymes?
We often clarify the famous phrase, “You are what you eat,” by saying, “You are what you digest and absorb!” Without proper digestion of your food, which relies on digestive enzymes, you can eat all the nutrient-rich foods in the world, and your body just won’t reap the full rewards.
Stages of Complete Food Digestion
Complete digestion, or “food processing,” is a four-stage process comprising ingestion, digestion, absorption, and elimination. Let me briefly explain, so you can see where digestive enzymes factor into the equation, and why it’s so important to ensure, you have plenty in your system.
Stage 1 – Ingestion
Although it’s common to say your digestive process begins with ingestion or putting food into your mouth, it can actually begin before that! That’s because you can start salivating just from the thought or smell of food!
Stage 2 – Digestion
The second stage of food processing is called “digestion.” This is the physical and chemical breakdown of food, which occurs when you chew. Your mouth’s salivary glands, your stomach, and your pancreas secrete acids and chemicals called enzymes.
These digestive enzymes break down your food at a molecular level to allow particles such as proteins, carbohydrates, and fats to be processed, and the nutrients absorbed into your bloodstream.
One of the most important stomach acids is hydrochloric acid or HCL. It assists in the breakdown of protein into constituent amino acids and supports maximum calcium, magnesium, iron, and other mineral absorption. It also helps maintain a healthy gastrointestinal microbe balance.
Low stomach acid is one of the most common causes of poor digestion. Many people take apple cider vinegar to help increase those acid levels.
Stage 3 – Absorption
The third stage of the digestive process is absorption. This occurs in your small intestine, which continues breaking down food by using enzymes released by the pancreas and bile from the liver. Your intestines then distribute nutrients to your bloodstream to be carried to all the cells in your body.
Stage 4 – Elimination
Elimination, the final stage of digestion, is the excretion of excess solid waste material. This is facilitated by gastrointestinal (GI) motility, the movement of the digestive system and transferring the waste within it.
Without enough digestive enzymes, your body cannot break down the protein, carbohydrates, and fats you eat. Let’s inspect these powerful chemicals.
What are Digestive Enzymes?
Several types of digestive enzymes exist, and each has a distinctive role. All digestive enzymes are considered hydrolases, meaning they use water molecules to break food down into its basic building blocks.
Digestive enzymes come in many forms. There are protein-digesting enzymes, enzymes that digest starch and carbohydrates, as well as enzymes that digest fat. The main digestive enzymes include:
- Amylase: Found in saliva, pancreatic and stomach juices, it breaks down carbs and starches into simple sugars
- Lactase: Breaks down lactose, a natural sugar in milk, into the simple sugars glucose and galactose
- Lipase: A digestive enzyme in the stomach and pancreas that breaks down lipids (fats) into fatty acids and glycerol
- Protease: Found in the stomach, pancreas, and intestine, it breaks down protein into amino acids
- Maltase: Breaks down malt sugar into glucose
- Sucrase: Breaks down sugar into glucose and fructose
Our bodies do not produce digestive enzymes that break down plant cell walls such as cellulose, pectins, and resistant starches. These plant cell walls are fiber, a nondigestible substance. Even though it doesn’t supply nutrients, fiber is still beneficial. That’s because it passes through your colon where it feeds good bacteria, contributes to fecal bulk, and helps move waste out.
Why are Digestive Enzymes Important?
Because you are what you digest and absorb, you need a full range of nutrient-dense foods and the digestive enzymes to process them into what your body can actually use for energy. Digestive enzymes can support weight loss, the immune system, and a healthy inflammatory response.
They can also help some of the many people who simply stop making lactose. Hence the infamous “lactose intolerance” epidemic. However, a lack of other enzymes can really cause problems with the digestion of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
If you have diabetes, for example, a lack of digestive enzymes can contribute to blood sugar spikes. Diabetes can cause an impairment in the metabolism of sugars, and it has also been associated with abnormal metabolism of fats and proteins.
Digestive enzyme production weakens as you age. This affects the health of your entire digestive tract and becomes a limiting factor regarding the nutrients you can absorb and use.
Employing a broad-spectrum digestive enzyme can not only help ensure you don’t experience gastric distress from the food you eat, no matter what your age, it can also help ensure you optimally absorb and use the valuable vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients these foods contain.
Here are some signs that show you’re not digesting food properly:
- Bulky, foul-smelling stools
- Feeling full, even if you haven’t overeaten
- Gas, bloating, or flatulence
- Heartburn or burping
- Lack of energy
- Undigested food on stool
- Weight loss even while eating an optimal diet
What Can you Do to Improve Digestion and Absorption Issues?
If you suspect you might have a digestion and/or absorption issue, these are commonly recommended supportive measures;
- Avoid drinking water with meals, as this can further dilute your gastric juices
- Chew well and eat slowly
- Consume fiber-rich fruits and vegetables
- Don’t eat late at night
- Skip processed foods
Foods That Contain Natural Digestive Enzymes
If the body cannot make enough digestive enzymes, food molecules cannot be digested properly. This can lead to digestive disorders like lactose intolerance. Thus, eating foods that are high in natural digestive enzymes can help improve digestion.
Here are 12 foods that contain natural digestive enzymes;
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