What Are Digestive Enzymes & What Do They Do?
I 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.
Digestion Is A Four-Stage Process
Complete digestion, or “food processing” is a four-stage process consisting of 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.
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!
The second stage of food processing is called “digestion.” This is the physical and chemical breakdown of food, which occurs when you start chewing. Your mouth’s salivary glands, your stomach, and your pancreas secrete acids and chemicals called enzymes.
Digestive Enzymes Break Down Your Food
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. You can read more about that in this article.
The third stage of the digestive process is absorption. This occurs in your small intestine, which continues the process of 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.
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 the transfer of the waste within it.
Without enough digestive enzymes, your body cannot break down the protein, carbohydrates, and fats you eat. Let’s take a closer look at 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.1
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 fructose2
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,3 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 as well as 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. Since I advocate ditching dairy, that’s not a huge issue. 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.4
Digestive Enzymes And Aging
I also want to mention that digestive enzyme production weakens as you age. This impacts the health of your entire digestive tract, and becomes a limiting factor with regard to the nutrients you are able to absorb and utilize.
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 utilize the valuable vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients these foods contain.
Here are some signs that indicate 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 in stool
- Weight loss even while eating an optimal diet
Digestive Enzyme Supplements Can Help
If you suspect you might have a digestion and/or absorption issue, I recommend the following supportive measures:
- Add my Complete Enzymes to your daily routine
- 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
My Complete Enzymes are perfect for anyone who wants the very best digestive enzyme available that is equipped to break down a broad spectrum of foods and assist with optimal absorption and utilization of micronutrients.
I recommend it for anyone concerned about food sensitivities or who is looking for a way to manage accidental gluten exposure and cross-contamination because it contains protease enzymes with powerful DDP-IV activity to break down gluten. I carry a bottle of my Complete Enzymes in my purse whenever I dine in a restaurant or in someone’s home, just in case I accidentally eat gluten.
My Complete Enzymes support your body’s inflammatory response, immune system, and digestive health, and they are made with no animal-based ingredients whatsoever! Support your journey to optimal health by improving your digestion so that you can absorb all the nutrients in your food.
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