Whether you know it or not, you are a powerhouse of enzymatic activity. Our bodies are packed with enzymes. These tiny proteins act as catalysts in biochemical reactions and they exist everywhere and are essential for life.
Around our bodies, they perform many tasks, such as building muscle, breaking down organic matter, destroying toxins, and more. If something is happening anywhere in your body, rest assured that enzymes are at the center of it.
The enzymes we want to focus on, however, are those specifically located within your gut. These are called digestive enzymes.
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What are digestive enzymes?
Digestive enzymes begin their work the moment that you put food in your mouth. Saliva contains amylase, the enzyme responsible for Stage One of food breakdown. It begins the process of converting carbs into sugars. A type of amylase enzyme, called ptyalin, activates as soon as food enters your mouth and continues its work well into the small intestine.
Once food enters your stomach, the enzyme pepsin gets to work on pulling apart proteins into smaller molecules. Gelatinase breaks down meat, gastric amylase breaks down starch, and lipase begins the breakdown of certain types of fats. Your stomach and intestines are a soup of dozens of kinds of enzymes, all working together toward the same goal — breaking down food into small nutrients that can be absorbed by the body and transformed into energy.
The main types of enzymes your body produces for digestion are:
- Amylase – breaks apart starches and sugars into small glucose molecules
- Protease – breaks down proteins into amino acids
- Lipase – breaks down fats into fatty acids. It is produced in the pancreas and small intestine as well. It’s also found in breast milk to help babies digest the fat molecules in breast milk.
- Maltase – converts grain-based sugar into glucose
- DPP-IV – breaks down gluten and casein
If my body produces enzymes, why would I need to supplement?
It’s an excellent question, and the answer can vary a lot from person to person. There are many factors that can affect our enzyme production, from something as simple as a fever to pancreatitis or old age. Whenever we have insufficient enzymes, digestive enzyme supplementation is in order.
- Viruses. Fevers can increase your body temperature to such a point that digestive enzymes are affected. Enzymes work best at a normal body temperature, ranging from 97-99°F. A high fever can cause the structure of enzymes to break down.
- Pancreatitis. Inflammation of the pancreas (one of the primary producers of digestive enzymes) can reduce the number and effectiveness of enzymes it produces.
- Poor pH levels in your stomach or intestines. A high pH in your stomach means it is too alkaline, and a low pH means it’s too acidic. Intestinal enzymes have an optimum pH of about 7.5, while enzymes in the stomach have an optimum pH of about 2. Poor pH is often caused by diet, stress, and other lifestyle factors or health issues.
- Enzymatic inhibitors. Certain medication, including antibiotics, can inhibit enzymes.
- Poor diet. Processed foods contain essentially no natural enzymes, which places the whole burden of enzyme production on your body. Raw foods contain high amounts of natural enzymes, and cooked foods do as well, though fewer. Consistently poor diets place too much strain on your body to produce enzymes and digest food.
- Serious health issues, such as cystic fibrosis, pancreatic cancer, stomach cancer, leaky gut syndrome, and more may also contribute to low enzyme production.
Whatever the cause, the result is the same. Your body is unable to break down food thoroughly enough to get the nutrition that it needs.
What are signs that my body doesn’t have enough digestive enzymes?
There are a few signature symptoms of poor enzyme production, but it’s important to remember that these symptoms may also be a sign of other more serious health issues as well. It’s important to always discuss health concerns with a medical professional.
Common symptoms include:
- Heartburn or acid reflux
- Excess gas
- Stomach cramps
- Food sensitivities
- Undigested food in stool
Dangers of Untreated Enzyme Deficiencies
If you have an enzyme deficiency that is left untreated, it can lead to or contribute to more serious health complaints including:
- Crohn’s disease
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- High blood pressure
- Circulatory issues
- Chronic Fatigue
- Weight fluctuations or changes
With such a list of symptoms, how can you know if digestive enzymes are playing a role in your discomfort?
Actually, this can be remarkably easy to assess. If enzymes are the cause, taking digestive enzymes with meals, and especially with types of foods that consistently cause you trouble, will often radically reduce your symptoms of discomfort.
This may take several days to take effect, but generally, people will notice improvement within 48 hours or less. For those with food sensitivities, the effect is often noticed within a few hours.
What are the benefits of taking digestive enzymes?
Taking digestive enzymes has a whole host of benefits. Digestive enzymes can:
- Increase nutrient absorption from your food for more robust overall health and energy
- Reduce symptoms of indigestion
- Help prevent and/or treat some forms of digestive health conditions, such as Crohn’s or IBS
- Reduce stress on the GI tract
- Help heal leaky gut and other bacterial/enzyme imbalances
- Lower overall inflammation in the body by lowering inflammation in the gut
- Reduce reaction to food sensitivities by helping your body break down difficult to digest proteins and sugars, such as gluten, casein, and lactose
- Counteract enzyme inhibitors in medications as well as foods
Your gut plays an enormous role in the health of your whole body. It’s responsible for most of your nutrient absorption, and if it can’t do its job properly, all other areas of your body will suffer as a result. Your body simply won’t get the nutrients it needs. Energy, mental focus, sleep, inflammation control, hormonal balance — all of it needs nutrients and vitamins found in the food you eat.
The health of your intestines and colon depends on a healthy balance of probiotics (bacteria) and enzymes. When your body is unable to absorb nutrients or too-large food particles remain in your digestive system, it can contribute to ‘bad bacteria’ taking over.
Your intestines play a key role in the proper function of your immune system by identifying and killing viruses and bacteria. It is also one of the primary channels of eliminating toxins and waste matter — a huge and important job.
What are the best digestive enzymes?
Your best choice of digestive enzymes depends on the digestive issues you’re struggling with. For general health, a full-spectrum enzyme blend is best. This will include a blend of digestive enzymes for broad spectrum support.
To target specific health issues, there are digestive enzymes tailored to various aspects of gut health. *
Digestive enzymes for gluten intolerance
Gluten intolerance is common. Gluten can be found in wheat, rye, barley, and other grains. A digestive enzyme supplement can help to reduce the symptoms that result from eating gluten.
Common symptoms include bloating, gas, stomach pain, cramping, diarrhea, constipation, and even rashes, acne, fatigue, headaches, and more. Digestive enzymes for gluten intolerance can help to reduce all such symptoms because it helps your intestines to break down the gluten molecules themselves.
Digestive enzymes for lactose/casein intolerance
When lactose isn’t properly digested, the result is almost always diarrhea and gas. Digestive enzymes for lactose and casein can resolve these symptoms and allow you to eat dairy products without the discomfort. Dairy allergies can also include; abdominal cramping, bloating, diarrhea, belching, fat in stool, nausea, constipation, congestion, and in severe cases, difficulty breathing.
Digestive enzymes for food allergies
Food allergies are the immune response to a foreign particle entering the body. Celiac disease, peanut, and shellfish allergies are all common examples. These reactions can be severe. Digestive enzymes can help to reduce these allergic reactions when you suspect you may have ingested an allergen. When dining out or traveling, it can be hard to eat within your diet, or even know exactly what you’re eating (especially when overseas).
Digestive enzymes for Pancreatic Insufficiency
Pancreatic Insufficiency is just what it sounds like — your pancreas is unable to produce enough digestive enzymes, or produces weak enzymes. Common symptoms of pancreatic insufficiency include poor food absorption (particles of food remain in the stool), diarrhea, and an increased risk of developing serious health problems. Old age is often a factor in pancreatic insufficiency.
How long should I take digestive enzymes and when?
It’s best to take digestive enzymes right before you eat, but you can take it during or after the meal as well if you forget. It’s best if the enzymes can begin their work right away before you’ve really begun the digestion process.
We don’t encourage people to rely on taking enzymes for preventable reasons, such as eating inflammatory foods. These forms of enzymes should be taken on an ‘as-needed’ basis only.
For those who struggle with pancreatic insufficiency, or those who find that old-age has simply reduced their bodies’ ability to produce enzymes, it may be helpful to incorporate digestive enzymes and probiotics into your daily lineup of supplements.
* It’s important to note that we do not recommend using digestive enzymes for intentional consumption of foods that you are allergic to. Food allergies can result in life-threatening immune responses. Even if the reaction isn’t severe, it can still lead to high amounts of inflammation in your body which is damaging long-term, and serious injury to intestinal cells.
Digestive enzymes side effects
If you’re choosing a high-quality digestive enzyme, the only side effects you’re likely to see are positive ones. However, it’s important to remember that all of our bodies are different. There may also be more going on behind the scenes in your digestive system than you know, such as an undiagnosed health issue.
Also, it may be that you’re reacting negatively to the blend of enzymes. Switching to a different blend will often relieve negative symptoms.
Some side effects of digestive enzymes include:
- Stomach pain
- Upset stomach
- Softer stools than normal
- More frequent stools than normal
If you have any signs of an allergic reaction, stop taking digestive enzymes immediately!
Digestive Enzymes for More Health Issues
There are many more types of enzyme supplements to target and support specific areas of your health. This include (but aren’t limited to);
Choosing the Best Digestive Enzymes
At The Healthy Place, we are picky about the brands we allow into our stores. We do research to find the brands that are the highest quality and best prices possible. We take the health of our Madison neighbors seriously.
If you turn your sights abroad, we urge you to choose high-quality options. Because dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA, they can contain impurities or inactive ingredients. Choosing an established brand with a good reputation ensures a quality product without any risk.
You can check out our favorite digestive enzymes here, or you can stop in one of our stores to talk with our Wellness Consultants on how best to target a specific issue you’re struggling with. We’re here to help you Find Your Healthy Place!
*Disclaimer: All information and recommendations given on this site, in email correspondence, newsletters or other materials provided by The Healthy Place is for informational and educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice nor be viewed as a substitute for a face-to-face consultation with a healthcare provider. Consult a licensed healthcare practitioner before modifying, stopping, or starting the use of any medications, health programs, diets, and/or supplements, as well as regarding any health concerns you may have. Our statements and information have not been evaluated or approved by the Food and Drug Administration. As with any health-related program, product, or service, your risks and results may vary. We expressly disclaim responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or damage caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application, or interpretation of the information provided to you here.”