As we age, we also tend to produce fewer of the digestive enzymes we need, so supplementing with digestive enzymes can benefit us. High levels of stress can also decrease the amount of enzymes we produce ourselves- and lead to a need to supplement.
You may have heard about digestive enzymes from a friend, relative or on the Web….but there may be a few questions you have about them. What are they, do I need them, why do I need them, where do I find them, can I take them when I have been diagnosed with “Z syndrome” or “Y disorder” and possibly many other questions. Let’s see if some of those questions can be answered.
Enzymes are protein substances that help break down other substances into smaller parts. During this process, the enzymes themselves don’t get broken down—and they can keep working on and on until all the substances are completely broken up. We need enzymes because our bodies can’t absorb the larger bits of food—they have to be broken down in order for our bodies to absorb and use the nutrients in food.
Raw foods contain enzymes. But, most of us don’t eat a lot of raw foods and cooking destroys many of the natural enzymes in our food. If we eat processed food, even more of the nutrients are destroyed. So, taking supplemental enzymes can help us get as much nutrition as possible out of the foods we eat.
Enzymes are an Extremely Important Part of Complicated Digestion ProcessDigestion is a complicated process. There are physical, mechanical and chemical steps involved and enzymes are an extremely important part of the process.
- Digestion is the process where food gets broken down further and further into the smaller pieces your body needs.
- Digestion begins in the mouth. The act of chewing and the production of saliva begins the breakdown of food into smaller parts. Saliva contains amylases—enzymes that break up carbohydrates in the food. After you swallow, the food enters the esophagus which then empties into the stomach. The esophagus, a long muscular tube, has a valve at the end of it that normally is a “one-way” valve. Sometimes, when the stomach gets over-filled (and other reasons), this valve gets weak and a person may feel “heartburn” or “reflux”. This is generally caused by stomach acids entering the esophagus. And, since acids “burn”, you can get the burning sensation.
- The stomach secretes acid and enzymes such as pepsin, lipases, gelatinases and rennin.
- The stomach churns and mixes the food—the source of the “gurgling” sounds you may hear from time to time.
- From the stomach, the food moves into the first part of the small intestine (the duodenum). In the duodenum, the food gets further digested and mixed with bile (from the liver and gall bladder) and digestive enzymes from the pancreas. The enzymes from the pancreas include trypsin, chymotrypsin, nucleases and amylases among others. All these enzymes break up food into an absorbable and useable size.
- The duodenum is the first of three parts of the small intestine. The other two parts are the jejunum and the ilium. All together, hard as it may be to believe, the small intestines are about 15-20 feet (4½ to 6 meters) long! The small intestine secretes even more enzymes to further break down the food. A good deal of nutrient absorption takes place in the small intestines.
- Finally, the digested food enters the colon and most of the water is reabsorbed. What is left is eliminated as stool.
The Most Common Reasons to Recommend Digestive Enzymes
So, what are the most common reasons to recommend digestive enzymes? Here are most common reasons:
- Gas and Bloating
- Lactose Intolerance
- Acid Reflux
- Food Allergies
- Food intolerance
- Immune disorders
- Irritable bowel syndromes
- Chronic disease
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Weight loss
- Leaky bowel syndrome
- Fatigue and lack of energy