Digestive enzymes - what are they and why are they so important?
Enzymes are clever little molecules of protein, that are made from amino acid chains. They act as catalysts (or triggers) to bring about specific biochemical reactions in the body and help speed up processes within the body. It's quite a description but what you really need to know is they are very important to long term health.
Every process in the body is driven by enzymes of one kind or another - whether acting alone, in combination or in complex chain reactions. They are essential substances - without them, many biological functions simply would not happen, or they would be too slow for us to survive.
They play a vital role in helping us to achieve optimal nutrition, weight management, health and vitality.
Types of enzymes
If we are deficient in enzymes, this can have a direct effect on the efficiency of important processes in the body, which can become unbalanced, making us more prone to ill-health.
The structure of enzymes establishes their particular function or use. Enzymes produced by the body can be classified into two types: metabolic enzymes and digestive enzymes.
Metabolic enzymes are primarily involved in energy production and cellular activity on every level, but they also have other functions - like helping to detoxify the body.
Digestive enzymes also have a number of functions, the main one being, to help in the break down of the food we eat into its constituent nutrients, followed by the absorption of these nutrients.
The body uses different types of digestive enzymes to digest fats, proteins and carbohydrates for example.
Enzymes can also be obtained through dietary sources, i.e. food enzymes present in natural whole foods, such as leafy green plants, fruit and vegetables. These assist the body with the digestion of that particular food.
We are particularly interested in the role played by enzymes in the digestive process.
The process of digestion
During digestion, food is broken down into a simple form that can be absorbed by the body. The process starts in the mouth with the chewing of food, continues in the stomach and small intestine where it is chemically broken down by the digestive juices and enzymes and finally gets completed in the large intestine.
Basically, food is taken in, digested to extract essential nutrients and energy and any remaining waste is finally expelled.
Digestion is arguably one of the most important and complex processes in the body, because it dictates our nutrient absorption, as well as our toxin and waste elimination. It also involves a wide number of organs and nutrients. For example:
- Organs: the nose, mouth, teeth, tongue, oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, rectum, anus and other organs are all involved in the digestive process.
- Other components of digestion: such as saliva, hormone regulators, nerve regulators, gastric juices, friendly bacteria, bile, hydrochloric acid and, of course, digestive enzymes.
The efficiency of the digestive process therefore affects so many processes in the body, everything from immunity and hormone balance, to metabolism, toxic load, general health and well-being.
If your digestive system that is sluggish or not functioning optimally, it can lead to a number of unpleasant symptoms and conditions, including acid reflux, indigestion, constipation, imbalanced bowel flora, irritable bowel, heightened toxic load and even self-poisoning.
Healthy digestion is therefore arguably the cornerstone of good health.
So what are digestive enzymes?
Digestive enzymes play a central role in healthy digestion.
The human body produces around 22 different kinds, each of which acts on a different type of food. They work best at a specific temperature and pH and also have specific sites of action, eg, the mouth and stomach.
The most well known digestive enzymes are:
Amylase - breaks down carbohydrates into sugars.
Lipase - breaks down fats into fatty acids.
Protease breaks down protein into amino acids.
These enzymes are used to help break food down into nutrients to be absorbed and waste to be excreted. The nutrient molecules must be digested into molecules that are small enough to be absorbed through the lining of the small intestine. If we don't produce enough digestive enzymes to complete this process efficiently, or there are insufficient enzymes available from the foods we eat, it can lead to what is called “partial digestion”.
This means food that is not properly broken down and therefore cannot be absorbed effectively. It can therefore sit fermenting in the stomach and small intestine, or putrefying in the colon.
This can, then in turn, lead to acid reflux, increased activity of harmful bacteria and parasites in the gut, along with poor nutrient absorption, fatigue, digestive upset, flatulence, bloating and more serious health issues (including food intolerances and allergies).
Digestive enzymes and health
In relation to digestion and nutrition, it is therefore essential to recognise the critical role that enzymes play and the importance of having sufficient levels of them for long term health.
According to Dr. Edward Howell, we have a finite reservoir of enzyme activity - this means we can run out of our digestive enzymes if we do not live a healthy lifestyle.
The complex digestive process requires a great deal of enzyme activity to extract nutrients from food and translate these into all the various tasks of the body. Factors such as caffeine and alcohol intake, illness, pregnancy, stress and exercise can also all take their toll on our enzyme reserves.
We also need to be aware of the fact that we produce fewer enzymes as we age. By age 35, the production of enzymes in the stomach, pancreas and small intestines begins to decline.
Enzyme production in the body decreases by 30% in most adults over 50.
It is therefore wise to put the least amount of strain on the digestive system and its enzyme reserves as possible, both by eating a healthy diet and including a high number of enzyme-rich foods in it (such as raw foods, sprouted and/or fermented foods).
Unprocessed whole foods contain most of the enzymes required for digesting that particular food, which can then help to relieve some of the strain on the body when having to produce its own enzymes. Many people also consider digestive enzyme supplements, to support their digestion.
In contrast, a diet high in enzyme-poor, highly refined and processed foods can place a significant strain on digestion and therefore your reserve of digestive enzymes. The body will try to compensate by producing more of its own digestive enzymes to make up for the lack of external plant enzymes, thereby depleting its own reserves more quickly.
Theoretically, the more we can preserve and support our reservoir of precious enzymes, the better our bodies will be able to protect themselves against ill-health and maintain a healthy balance between activity, repair, immunity and recovery.
If you are struggling with eating a healthy variety of natural, minimally processed food that will support your digestive process, I highly recommend that you consider taking DIGEZT. This is a supplement that has been specifically designed to help your digestive system. It is packed full of ingredients that will support your digestive enzymes and therefore your long term health.
By eating a highly nutritious diet and supplementing if necessary, you will be able to live a long and healthy life going forward.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.