Enzymes are essential to almost every function in the body. Digestive enzymes are required to ensure the proper breakdown and utilization of the nutrients contained in food. The proper breakdown of food is essential not only for the absorption of nutrients, but also to ensure that the by-products of food can be properly eliminated by the body. If undigested foods reach the large intestine, it becomes food for the "bad" bacteria in your intestinal tract. These "bad" bacteria will putrefy the undigested food, leading to gas, bloating, fatigue, headaches etc.
Ask most people where digestion starts and chances are they will say their stomachs. The truth is that digestion actually starts in your mouth when you smell or even think about food. When we smell or think about food we begin to salivate and in our saliva is the digestive enzyme amylase. Amylase begins to break down carbohydrates in your mouth. The key is to take the time to enjoy your food and to chew your food well so that amylase can do its job effectively. Digestive enzymes are not only found in the mouth (saliva) but also the stomach (gastric juice) and intestines (pancreatic juice, intestinal juice, and intestinal mucosa). There are some digestive enzymes that the human body cannot produce but when taken supplementally, can be very helpful. These include; cellulase which breaks down plant fibre (cellulose), invertase which breaks down refined sugars, and pectinase which breaks down phytates. It is very important that phytates and phytic acid are broken down (phytic acid is found in seeds, legumes and grains). If not, they can bind with calcium, magnesium and zinc in the intestine, blocking the absorption of these important minerals.
As we age, our natural production of enzymes begins to decrease. Poor dietary choices, over-cooking foods, and not eating enough fresh fruits and vegetables also contribute to enzyme deficiency. Symptoms of insufficient enzymes include:
- Gas and bloating
- Heavy feeling after eating
- Malabsorption of nutrients
- Undigested food in stool
During digestion food is broken down into molecular components by specific enzymes. Carbohydrates (starches) are broken down by the enzyme amylase into maltose, glucose and fructose. Proteins are broken down into individual amino acids by enzymes called protease and fats are broken down into glycerol and fatty acids by the enzyme lipase.This allows the body to absorb the maximum amount of nutrients from your meal. When food is effectively broken down, the overall function of the digestive system is improved.
When shopping for a digestive enzyme, look for plant enzyme formulas that address every type of food group including; proteins, fats, carbohydrates, dairy, plant and vegetable material (cellulose), and sugars. This combination of enzymes functions under the whole range of gastric pH's from 2-14. The addition of daily digestive enzymes can help you get more out of your diet and more out of life!
This column is sponsored by Good 'n' Natural in Steinbach.