There are two kinds of enzymes; those made inside the body and those used as a digestive aid.
The type of enzymes made in our bodies are primarily made in and secreted by the pancreas and small intestines. Minimal amounts of digestive enzymes are also secreted by your stomach and salivary glands.
All digestive enzymes are special proteins that act as catalysts to speed up certain chemical reactions within your body. As catalysts, they facilitate the breakdown of the food you eat into smaller particles of nutrients, allowing your body to more easily absorb them.
If you are not able to manufacture enough of your own digestive enzymes your digestive system is technically unable to breakdown food and thus your digestive system cannot absorb the nutrients found in your food.
While there are too many digestive enzymes to list them all, there are three enzymes in particular that are responsible for breaking down most of the common food groups. They include:
Proteases – assist in the breakdown of proteins. There are multiple enzymes that are proteases. Proteases break proteins down into amino acids. The three main proteases are chymotrypsin, pepsin, and trypsin. Chymotrypsin and trypsin are produced in your pancreas, while pepsin is produce in your stomach.
Amylase – manufactured in the pancreases assist in the breakdown of carbohydrates, starches and sugars
Lipase – produced in the pancreases assist in the breakdown of fats and triglycerides into glycerol and fatty acids.
Other important digestive enzymes include:
Cellulase is responsible for breaking down cellulose into simple sugars. Your body is unable to produce cellulose on its own . Instead, it is naturally produced by a variety of symbiotic bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. This digestive enzyme can be found in most raw foods, including broccoli and apples.
Produced in your intestines, lactase is a dairy sugar that converts lactose into glucose.
Produced in the pancreas and saliva, maltase is responsible for breaking down maltose and other similar sugars into glucose.
Produced in your pancreas, phospholipase converts phospholipids into fatty acids.
Produced in your intestines, aminopeptidase breaks down peptides into amino acids.
We can’t live without enzymes
Enzymes are catalysts for thousands of biological functions. They are essential to maintaining health and obtaining nutrients from the foods we eat. Without adequate enzyme production we cannot obtain nutrients from our food and health suffers. Since digestive health is critical to overall health the importance of good enzyme production cannot be overstated.
Remember that a healthy gut impacts mood, memory and a robust natural immunity.
Supplemental digestive enzymes
Supplemental digestive produced in laboratories sold by nutritional supplement manufacturers are used by many people who; for a variety of reasons, are not able to make enough of their own digestive enzymes. Taking a digestive enzyme supplement is commonplace due to so many relying on processed, prepared foods and lack of consumption of foods high in natural enzymes and probiotics. Add to that there is a growing number of immune compromised people who need enzyme support.
Condition specific formulations
Different formulations of enzymes are commonly used by natural health care providers to assist and support various health conditions. Enzymes that help with a variety of health issues may be vegetarian or contain porcine or bovine or ox glandular. Choosing the correct digestive enzyme formulation for your specific health condition(s) can be confusing to most people so working with a natural health provider who has been trained in the many formulations available is very helpful.
Here are some examples of how enzymes are used in a few common health conditions:
There are numerous benefits in taking digestive enzymes for gastric issues. A good place to start is with a vegetarian full spectrum enzyme formulation with DPP-IV.
Frequently you will see additional herbs (DGL Licorice; slippery elm, marshmallow, artichoke, and gamma oryzanol from rice bran are examples) are added to specialty enzyme formulations. One I like is Heartburn Essentials.
With so many enzyme options available, it is important work with a professional who understands which ingredients are appropriate for your specific gastric issues and which are contraindicated for you. For example in conditions such as SIBO, Crohn’s disease and IBS many of these herbs should be avoided.
Sometimes you will see food based additions to enzymes such as papain (papaya) and bromelain (pineapple). Care should always be taken when considering using food based supplements in those with known or suspected food sensitivities.
Specifically formulated to assist in breakdown of gluten and casein. DPP-IV (Dipeptidyl Peptidase) assists in hydrolyzing small protein peptides like casomorphins (dairy proteins) and gluteomorphins (gluten proteins) that adversely impact nervous system functions in many people. This is especially common within the ASD (autism spectrum disorder community). I have also found many people with both autoimmune; or compromised immunity, as well as food sensitivities benefit greatly from this type of enzyme.
Most professional grade formulations include DPP-IV along with full spectrum enzymes (protease, amylase & lipase). I use Vital-Zymes Complete with many of my clients and highly recommend it.
Pancreatic enzymes & gallbladder formulations
This type of enzyme contains animal derived glandular from either bovine or porcine or ox. The reason for adding any of these desiccated glandular’s is to help replace missing pancreatic or gallbladder enzymes (bile) in people that are lacking these. This may be due to improper functioning of the pancreases that causes difficulty in processing carbohydrates and fiber or surgical removal of the gallbladder which no longer makes extra bile for fat digestion.
I like Pure Encapsulations because they offer both a glandular and vegetarian formula.
Other enzymes help replace missing of low amounts of specific enzymes. A couple examples would be those for lactose intolerance (lactase). Another enzyme that helps degrade histamine called DAO, along with another enzyme called histamine N-methyl transferase (HNMT). Seeking Health is my go for DAO.
Probiotics are also essential and should be replenished at least every few days by either supplementing or through eating probiotic rich foods. I love Ther-Biotic Complete.
Systemic Enzymes – what are they?
This type of enzyme supplement is formulated to address inflammatory pathways. Systemic enzyme formulations come in both vegetarian and animal sourced complexes. In each case, these formulations help support tissue repair and healing. The proteolytic enzymes activate cell mediating tissue repair and break down cellular debris associated with inflammation. This action helps improve vascular permeability speeding healing and tissue repair. These formulas increase in the potency of natural killer cells. Proteolytic (protein-destroying) enzymes also degrade pathogenic complexes that can inhibit normal immune function. Unlike digestive enzyme formulas systemic enzymes are always taken away from food.
This type of enzyme formulation is used by clinicians to help address specific nasty pathogens in the gut mucosa that are highly resistant to antimicrobials and antibiotics.
Pathogens such as specific strains of E.coli; h.pylori; Klebsiella, Pseudomonas; Staphylococcus and Candida are targeted with these enzymes. Because the use of these enzymes causes pathogens embedded in the biofilm to be released these should only be taken working in conjunction with a trained clinician.
What about food?
There is some disagreement among health care professionals as to if cooking destroys too many enzymes naturally found in foods. I found an interesting article on the validity of eating a strictly raw diet here:Enzymes in raw foods
I find that eating a combination of some raw foods with cooked foods works best, practically speaking for most of my clients. Also keep in mind that cooking does break down fiber and makes many vegetables easier to digest which helps people with overtaxed digestive function and especially IBS. Most of us would not consider eating our animal protein raw for a variety of reasons not least of which is cooking helps kill bacteria making you less likely to get food poisoning.
Some foods that are particularly high in naturally occurring enzymes that aid digestion include:
- Raw honey
Plus remember that all naturally fermented foods; kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchee, salt brine fermented vegetables.
Symptoms that indicate you may benefit from digestive enzymes
- If you have skin issues such as rashes, eczema, acne
- If you have joint or muscle pain (including RA, MS, Fibromyalgia)
- If you have trouble with brain fog, mood swings, or head aches
- If you have any autoimmune condition or feel you are run down or immune compromised
- If you experience any digestive distress; heartburn, GERD, intestinal pain, bloating or gas
- If you have trouble digesting fats, protein or high fiber foods
- If you eat a diet that consist of primarily grab and go; pre prepared foods or eat out at restaurants frequently
- If you get sick or get food poisoning often
All of these types of issues are a good indication your digestion process is impaired and needs to be strengthened.
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