A Deep Dive Into Digestive Enzymes and Their Benefits

about digestive enzymes

The body does many amazing things every single day, and digestive enzymes are just one of those things. These little proteins play a key role in breaking down the food you eat, but they’re just as important for breathing, kidney and liver function, reproduction, elimination and so much more. Unfortunately, some people don’t have enough digestive enzymes, or their bodies don’t release the enzymes properly, so certain foods aren’t broken down and the nutrients aren’t absorbed. This may explain the 60 million to 70 million Americans that are affected by digestive diseases, which produce all kinds of uncomfortable symptoms, including bleeding, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, pain, nausea and vomiting. The good news is that you can increase the number of digestive enzymes you get with a few simple changes in your diet. In this article, we break down the process – pardon the pun – so you can start tackling any digestive issues you may be dealing with.

What are Digestive Enzymes?

Digestive enzymes are proteins in the body that help break down your food into smaller parts and usable nutrients (proteins, carbs, fats and vitamins), so your digestive tract can easily absorb and use them throughout the body. They’re naturally produced in various parts of the body, such as your mouth (where digestion begins), your stomach, pancreas and small intestine. As such, these digestive enzymes are essential for every function in the human body – from eating and digestion to breathing, kidney and liver function, reproduction, elimination and much more. However, they are largely recognized for helping you digest food, specifically.

What’s even more interesting is that they are released by salivary glands and cells that line your stomach, pancreas and small intestine anytime you anticipate eating, smell or taste good, or go through the digestive process.

However, there are some cases where an individual doesn’t have enough digestive enzymes, or they aren’t released properly. There are also a variety of health conditions that can cause digestive enzyme deficiency, such as lactose intolerance. Additionally, conditions that affect the pancreas, such as pancreatitis, diabetes, and gallstones, are largely linked to digestive enzyme deficiencies due to the pancreas being responsible for secreting several key enzymes.

Types of Digestive Enzymes

There are thousands of individual enzymes in the body. However, there are seven types of important digestive enzymes that play a key role in the overall functioning of your health. Each of the digestive enzymes are designed to target a specific nutrient and break it up into a smaller form that can eventually be absorbed. For example, there are:

  • Amylases: Break down carbs, like starch, into simple sugars.
  • Lactase: Break down lactose into glucose and galatose.
  • Lipases: Break down fat into three fatty acids and glycerol.
  • Maltase: Break down maltose (malt sugar) into glucose for energy
  • Proteases: Break down protein into small peptides and amino acids
  • Sucrase: Break down sucrose into glucose and fructose

There are also several other digestive enzymes that also play a key role in the overall health and functioning of your body, such as:

  • Chymotrypsin: Break down proteins and polypeptides into free amino acids that get absorbed in the intestines.
  • Elastase: Break down fats, proteins and carbohydrates
  • Pepsin: Break down proteins into smaller peptides and amino acids that are then absorbed or broken down in the small intestine.
  • Peptidase: Break down and modify proteins and peptides
  • Protease: Break down proteins into amino acids
  • Trypsin: Break down proteins and activate additional pancreatic enzymes, such as carboxypeptidate and chymotrypsin, to turn them into peptides

Signs You May Have a Digestive Enzyme Deficiency

Since digestive enzymes play a key role in digestion, many of the signs of a potential deficiency relate to your digestion. However, your gut health plays a vital role in your overall health and wellness as well, so you may start to experience signs and symptoms related to other aspects of your health, including your mental health.

For example, common symptoms of a digestive enzyme deficiency include:

  • Anxiety
  • Bloating
  • Depression
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Food intolerances
  • Gas
  • Heartburn
  • Low energy
  • Nausea
  • Oily stools
  • Skin problems
  • Stomach cramps
  • Undigested food in stools
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Weak immune system
  • Weight gain and obesity

If you are experiencing the signs and symptoms of a digestive enzyme deficiency, making some simple changes in your diet can help.

Benefits of Digestive Enzymes

Digestive enzymes are commonly recognized for their important role in digestion and the many benefits that come with that, such as the healing and elimination of many of the symptoms mentioned above. However, they also play a key role in every function in the human body – from eating and digestion to breathing, kidney and liver function, reproduction, elimination and much more. As such, the benefits extend well into your overall health and wellness. Research has found that digestive enzymes, whether naturally occurring or supplemented, can provide a handful of powerful benefits, such as:

  • Healing and elimination of indigestion symptoms
  • Reduce irritable bowel syndrome symptoms
  • Increase nutrient absorption
  • Increase energy levels
  • Prevent a leaky gut
  • Promote a healthy inflammatory response
  • Reduce chronic fatigue
  • Decrease chronic pain
  • Combat mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression
  • Encourage healthy weight
  • Healthier skin
  • Stronger immune system

Ways to Increase Your Digestive Enzymes

Although digestive enzymes are a naturally occurring process in the body, some people don’t have enough or their bodies aren’t able to break them down as they should. When either of these situations happen, the body is unable to absorb nutrients from foods and can lead to digestive enzyme deficiency, including lactose intolerance, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency and congenital sucrose-isomaltase deficiency.

Fortunately, there are a variety of foods, such as fermented vegetables and tropical fruits, that are naturally high in digestive enzymes that can help you break down and absorb nutrients. These are best enjoyed raw, as heat can destroy the plant enzymes that you’re looking for.

Additionally, there are also digestive enzyme supplements that come in pill, powder and liquid forms. In some cases, a prescription supplement may be needed. However, it is best to try the natural route first and speak with your healthcare provider if you still don’t think you are getting the digestive enzymes you need.

Here are some of the top foods recommended for increasing digestive enzymes:

  • Avocado contain lipases that help digest and metabolize fat
  • Banana contain amylases and glucosidases that help break down complex carbs
  • Fermented foods, such as kimchi and sauerkraut, contain lipases and proteases that get developed during the fermentation process. They also contain probiotics that further help digestive health.
  • Ginger contains protease (zingibain) that help break down proteins. It can also help ease nausea caused by indigestion.
  • Honey contains amylases, diastases, proteases and invertases, which help break down starches, sugars and protein.
  • Kefir contains lipases, lactase and proteases and can help digest fermented milk and is an excellent alternative for people with lactose intolerance.
  • Kiwi contain proteases (actinidain) and are high in fiber that can help support the function of your digestive tract.
  • Papaya contain proteases (papain) to help digest proteins.
  • Pineapple contain proteases (bromelain) and help digest proteins. They also have anti-inflammatory effects that can further improve your health and decrease your risk of heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, obesity, Alzheimer’s, psoriasis and many more health concerns and conditions linked to inflammation.
  • Mango contain amylases that help break down carbs from starches and turn them into simple sugars. The enzyme content increases as the fruit becomes more ripe.
  • Miso contain lactases,, lipases, amylases and proteases that help break down the lactose in dairy, as well as fats, proteins and carbohydrates.

Digestive enzymes are powerful proteins that occur naturally in the body to help you digest your food and absorb the nutrients that come from them. They’re secreted by the salivary glands and cells found in your stomach, pancreas, and small intestine and provide a plethora of advantages that help you maintain overall health and wellness. However, some people experience a digestive enzyme deficiency, where their body doesn’t get enough digestive enzymes or doesn’t break them down properly, so the nutrients aren’t absorbed. Digestive enzyme deficiency can occur for seemingly no reason, or it can be caused by several health conditions, particularly those related to the pancreas. Fortunately, you can treat a digestive enzyme deficiency with a few simple changes in your diet and/or by taking over-the-counter supplements. However, it is recommended to speak with your healthcare provider to discuss your symptoms and to find the best course of action for your healing moving forward.

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