Digestive enzyme supplements are said to help us digest food better, but are they actually worth adding to our supplement lineup? Nutritionist Neeyaz Zolfaghari breaks down (sorry, had to) everything we need to know about digestive enzymes.
To understand digestive enzymes, we first need to understand what an enzyme is and what it does.
An enzyme is a substance typically produced by a living organism that encourages a biochemical reaction. Without enzymes, many of the bodily processes would not take place at the preferred rate.
The process that we are going to focus on in detail here is that of the digestion of food. When we ingest proteins, carbohydrates and fats, those large nutrient molecules are then broken down into smaller molecules via the process of an enzymatic reaction. This process is what helps nutrients from our food go into our bloodstream, and the excess is excreted out through our urine, sweat, and bowels.
Digestive enzymes are secreted (or released) by the salivary glands in the mouth and the cells lining the stomach, pancreas, and small intestine. Digestion begins the moment you put food into your mouth when saliva production begins, and that is the start of an enzymatic reaction to help break things down.
There are several types of digestive enzymes:
1. Amylase – responsible for digesting carbohydrates
2. Maltase – responsible for breaking down maltose into glucose, which is our bodies preferred fuel for energy
3. Lactase – responsible for breaking down lactose
4. Lipase – responsible for breaking down fats into fatty acids
5. Proteases – responsible for breaking down protein into amino acids
6. Sucrase – responsible for breaking down sucrose into fructose and glucose (simpler sugars)
For some people, the use of an oral digestive enzyme proves useful to help with the digestive process. Common conditions that result in the use of digestive enzymes include lactose intolerance and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency such as cystic fibrosis and diabetes, to name a few.
Other people without an underlying health condition might have trouble digesting certain foods more than others. Symptoms generally experienced in this case include bloating, excessive gas, cramping after meals, diarrhea, stool that floats, and unintentional weight loss.
Understanding why these symptoms are showing up is of utmost importance and priority. These symptoms could be showing because of an unknown food allergy or intolerance, dysbiosis of the gut microbiome, use of the wrong probiotic, or certain medications. Once the initial cause is understood, then there can be a consideration of whether using digestive enzymes would be beneficial.
If oral digestive enzymes are not available to you, always look to Mother Nature to provide you with the best food sources that can help.
Foods high in digestive enzymes include:
9. Raw Honey
Incorporate more of these foods into your diet to help reduce any uncomfortable digestive symptoms, and if your symptoms persist, don’t take supplements or enzymes blindly. Work with a healthcare professional to help you understand where your issues might be stemming from.