Why You Need Digestive Enzymes and How to Best Add More to Your Diet
6 minute read
Digestive enzymes are essential for the proper breakdown of the food we eat. Without them, fats, proteins, and carbohydrates cannot be split into smaller, more easily absorbed particles.
The human body is capable of making the digestive enzymes you need, but production slows as we get older and can also be affected by poor diet. This means everyone can benefit from finding additional sources of the digestive enzymes our bodies rely on.
Enzymes and Digestion
One of the most common causes of digestive trouble, like bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhea, is incomplete digestion. When your food is not properly broken down it can cause irritation to your digestive tract as well as poor nutrient absorption. An imbalance in your gut bacteria and depleted digestive enzyme levels are what contribute to these problems most often.
Undigested food in your colon causes discomfort and allows opportunities for harmful bacteria to thrive. When you combine this with malnutrition, you could be facing serious illness and disease.
As we get older and enzyme production slows, we also face additional problems that contribute to these digestive troubles. Changes in how muscle and fat are stored along with decreased appetite also compound the problem.
Supplementing with digestive enzymes is the best solution. Studies have found that when enzyme supplements are taken or foods naturally containing enzymes are consumed more often, reports of digestive troubles are reduced.
The digestive process as a whole runs more smoothly when digestive enzymes are available and overall better health results. Without enzymes, you are essentially wasting what you eat, as you will not be able to extract what you need from your food.
Enzymes You Need and Where to Get Them
There are specific enzymes designed to break down each of the major foods we eat. Each of these is important; without them, the digestive process can fall apart. You can take a supplement for any missing enzymes or there are many that are found naturally in foods.
This enzyme is responsible for breaking down carbohydrates into simple sugars, which you can absorb easily. Amylase starts working in the mouth as part of your saliva and continues digesting carbohydrates in your stomach.
When you are deficient in amylase, the undigested carbohydrates end up in your gut where your gut bacteria have to break them down. This results in gas, bloating, and other uncomfortable digestive issues.
A food high in natural amylase is mango as well as fermented foods like miso. Increasing amylase intake will promote healthy digestion and prevent the unpleasant side effects of bacterial fermentation in your gut.
These enzymes break down fats into essential fatty acids. They also help your body to absorb important fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamins D, K, E and A.
Without lipase, fat from your food passes to the gut, producing greasy stools and gut discomfort. By not being able to digest and absorb these fats, your body also suffers malnutrition. Lipase is produced by your pancreas, but the more you rely on this the quicker your pancreas will wear down.
Adding additional lipase to your diet will support pancreatic health and ensure you get what you need from the fat you eat. One of the best food sources for lipase is the avocado.
Also produced by the pancreas, protease works to break down proteins into essential amino acids. Any deficiency results in protein fragments in the gut, which can cause toxicity. Undigested proteins on a large scale can even cause colon cancer.
Protease supplements can help reduce these risks by ensuring all proteins are properly digested. Natural proteases can be found in fermented foods, ginger, and pineapple.
| Related: Why the Best Digestive Enzyme Supplements Are Plant-Based |
Bromelain, is an especially important protease that is found in pineapples. Studies have found that bromelain not only supports pancreatic function, but it improves both fat and protein digestion. Whether it is a supplement or you just add pineapples to your daily diet, bromelain is an important protease you want to keep around.
Not too many people are aware of this enzyme or its properties. Cellulase is responsible for breaking down fiber, specifically the fiber found in plant-based foods (cellulose).
A lack of this enzyme results in undigested plant fiber which causes bloating, gas, and abdominal cramping. Fiber is essential for a healthy gut because your gut bacteria use this to produce essential vitamins and nutrients.
A balanced and happy gut means enhanced immunity as well as optimal colon health. If you have trouble digesting high-fiber foods (especially vegetables), a supplement with cellulase can remedy that and keep your gut happy and healthy too.
As we get older, trouble with dairy becomes more frequent. Lactase is the enzyme responsible for digesting lactose and this begins to decline as we get older.
Cutting dairy is often the solution; however, your bones require many nutrients found in dairy products. You may be free of bloating and cramping, but your risk for osteoporosis and bone fractures increases.
Taking a lactase supplement helps with the digestion of dairy, so you do not have to worry about making a choice between bone health and digestive comfort.
The Bottom Line
Without digestive enzymes, you cannot properly digest your food. We need food for energy and vital nutrients but cannot gain access to these without enzymatic support.
Your natural enzyme production may decrease as you get older, but you can still do your part to keep digestive processes moving smoothly along. Add a supplement to your diet so you can keep turning your food into the essential components you need for survival.