What are digestive enzymes?
When we eat food our body immediately starts to break it down into an absorbable form and specific nutrient pieces. Proteins turn into amino acids, fats turn into fatty acids and cholesterol and carbohydrates turn into simple sugars. Other compounds such as vitamins, minerals, and numerous other micro-nutrients are also broken down into simple absorbable forms.
Digestive enzymes are produced in the pancreas, small intestine, salivary glands, and stomach lining. When you think of digestive enzymes picture vital “lock and key” metabolizers that are necessary for food to be absorbed. Digestive enzymes can be spotted easily as they usually end in –ase. Here are some of the common enzymes and what food group they help metabolize
- Lipase: fats (lipids)
- Lactase: dairy (lactose)
- Amylase: carbohydrates
- Pepsin: proteins
Digestive enzymes are essential to help us break down our food. If we do not have enough digestive enzymes we might not be absorbing as much of the nutrition as possible. If you are reading this article on how to improve your health then I am going to assume that you care about the quality of food that you buy. But what if you’re spending money on high quality food but don’t have the enzymes to absorb it?
Our Digestive Enzyme Stores
Digestive enzymes are stored throughout your body in certain locations. Your liver, gall bladder, pancreas and other major organs produce and house your enzymes stores. When you were born you were given a certain amount of enzymes in your “stores”. Some people have more, some people have less.
Every time you eat food your body calls upon an enzyme to metabolize it. When you drink milk (lactose) for example, your body tells the small intestine to release a lactase enzyme. Lactase helps metabolize lactose. Now the problem lies in that every person is only given a certain amount of lactase enzymes – some more than others. As we age our body decreases in its ability to produce lactase. So given our depleted stores from usage and also our age eventually people become lactose intolerant. Once someone becomes lactose intolerant they no longer have the ability to digest lactose on their own. The age of (lactose) intolerance is different for everyone. The same example could be used for gluten and the inability to metabolize it. Once you lack the enzyme needed for gluten you become gluten intolerant. The following factors affect your overall digestive enzyme health and the amount of enzymes in your body:
- supply at birth
- milk consumption throughout life
- celiac disease
- chronic stress
- low stomach acid
- Crohn’s disease
- …and any other GI or pancreatic-relate disease
A lack of digestive enzymes can also lead to other conditions such as fatigue, inflammation, disruption of cellular repair, and fighting autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. By reducing inflammation all other “automatic responses” (such as hormones and GI system) are positive affected. Health is a prerequisite to weight loss, and a healthy digestive system is often said to be the root of all health.
How do digestive enzymes help with weight loss?
Enzymes have many different functions related to weight loss. Digestion allows your body to absorb nutrients that are essential. If your body is not able to absorb nutrients it makes it harder for your body to function and metabolize food. Your body needs the lipase enzyme to metabolize fats (lipids). Without lipase your body may not break down fat you consume into fatty acids for metabolism. But instead it may store it on your body as fat. That’s definitely not something most people want!
Digestive enzymes also help when working out. The increase of digestive enzymes helps with decreasing inflammation which helps with promote a pain-free workout. Also, when a digestive enzyme is taken with protein after a workout digestive enzymes increase absorption of the branched-chain amino acids. These special building blocks of protein have potent fat burning and muscle building effects in the body.
How do we correct a digestive enzyme deficiency?
Consuming more whole foods, and especially raw foods, can help to restore normal digestive function. Dietary interventions work by reducing inflammation in the body and the digestive tract, improving nutrient deficiencies, removing enzyme inhibitors, and improving gut bacteria.
Once your diet is in check may people still feel a need to supplement with a digestive enzyme. Reasons could be that they are still consuming a high portion of cooked foods, lack variety in their diet, bloating or fatigue. Many people find incredible results with taking a digestive enzyme supplement daily. Adding in 1-1 digestive enzyme supplements with meals can help eliminate numerous different symptoms.
How do I know if I should be taking digestive enzyme supplements?
There are many different signs that could indicate a deficiency in digestive enzymes. Some of the most common include:
- Gas and bloating after meals
- The sensation that you have food sitting in your stomach (a rock in your gut)
- Feeling full after eating a few bites of food
- Undigested food in your stool
- • Floating stools (an occasional floating piece is fine, but if all your poop consistently floats, that might be a sign something is wrong)
Did you know that if you have a consistently tight neck and shoulders that can be linked to undigested proteins in your system?
What kinds of digestive enzyme should I take?
There are a variety of digestive enzymes on the market, including single enzyme and multiple enzyme. I recommend a mixed enzyme to cover your bases. Your diet is composed of numerous different types of foods and nutrients, so your digestive enzyme supplement needs to cover the same. As with all supplements, you need a supplement that meets the following criteria:
- Quality/Price: Buying cheap supplements is almost always a waste of money—you are almost never going to get a benefit. When buying enzymes, do not look for the cheapest brand on the shelf, and steer clear of conventional grocery stores and drug stores as they carry poor quality product.
- Source:There are three major sourcing for digestive enzymes. Fruit sourced (isolated from papaya or pineapple) work well for some people, but tend to be the weakest digestive enzyme supplement, and aren’t sufficient for people who need more support. Animal sourced (typically listed as pancreatin) are not for vegetarians or vegans, and can have issues with stability. They work really well for some people, but typically are not the forms I’m using. “Plant” sourced are the most stable of all the enzymes, survive digestion well, and have a broad spectrum of action. These are the ones I most commonly use and recommend. You also want to make sure that the company is based in the USA and sources their ingredients from high quality suppliers.
- Multiple enzymes: When choosing a digestive enzyme be sure to choose one that is complete and contains several different types of enzymes. There are different enzymes needed to metabolize carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. And your digestive enzyme needs to be comprehensive enough to cover your needs.
- Ingredients: As with all supplements, you want to see all the ingredients listed. And you especially want to see what ingredients are not in the product like gluten, dairy, etc. If it doesn’t say “contains no: sugar, salt, wheat, gluten, soy, milk, egg, shellfish or preservatives,” you need to assume that it does.
When should I take digestive enzyme supplements, and how much should I take?
Take your digestive enzymes with food. It is recommend within about 30 minutes of eating. It can be right before, during, or after. As long as the supplement is in your stomach with the food you are receiving the benefit. I would recommend 1-2 capsules with most meals. Especially with meals that do not contain any raw ingredients. Even with my 100% raw green smoothie I take a digestive enzyme since I always add in protein powder, flax seeds, or another super food.