Our food, no matter which diet we follow, is a complex mixture of substances: fats, proteins, and starches and requires multiple enzymes to break down each macromolecule into its constituent parts. Digestive enzymes are produced in the appropriate organ and continue through the gut or are neutralized as necessary.
In our ‘sugar’ metabolism, intestinal enzymes include the following key processes:
- Aminopeptidases degrade peptides into amino acids.
- Lactase, a dairy sugar, converts lactose to glucose.
- Cholecystokinin aids digestion of proteins and fats.
- Secretin, as a hormone, controls the secretion of the duodenum.
- Sucrase converts sucrose to disaccharides and monosaccharides.
- Maltase converts maltose to glucose.
- Isomaltase converts isomaltose.
- Dealing primarily with fats and amino acids, pancreatic enzymes include:
- Lipase converts triglycerides into both fatty acids and glycerol.
- Amylase converts carbohydrates into simple sugars.
- Elastases degrade the protein elastin.
- Trypsin converts proteins to amino acids.
- Chymotrypsin converts proteins to amino acids.
- Nucleases convert nucleic acids to nucleotides and nucleosides.
- Phospholipase converts phospholipids into fatty acids.
Who Needs Digestive Enzymes?
In 2014, the United States Department of Health and Human Services reported that 70 million adult Americans experience chronic digestive distress. Consumer surveys reveal even higher numbers.
Who should take them depends on your view of nutrition, as to whether you would prefer to take a proactive or reactive approach to digestion and digestive enzyme supplements. Would you rather treat the symptoms of a digestive system, which is not working well, or would you rather augment your system so it can work more effectively and allow your system to make better use of the nutrients available?
An increased focus on diet and wellness means larger numbers of people are taking action in their health and nutrition, they are realizing that digestive enzymes can boost nutrition and help with certain health conditions, like those below
Digestive Diseases and Food Allergies
If you have any type of digestive disease like: acid reflux, bloating, gas, leaky gut, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, malabsorption, diarrhea or constipation, then digestive enzymes can help. Digestive enzymes can also reduce the stress on the stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder and small intestine by helping break down difficult-to-digest proteins, starches and fats.
Age-Related Enzyme Insufficiency
As we age, the acidity of our stomach acid weakens becoming more alkaline. In respect of enzyme production, this means there is an increasing likelihood the acidic “trigger” produced when chyme enters the intestine may fail. If the acidity trigger fails, then the “signal” is not given to secretin, which in turn prevents pancreatic secretions from releasing.
As we age there is an increasing suspicion that digestive problems may result from either low stomach acid or enzyme insufficiency in the elderly, which may be what causes acid reflux.
Hypochlorhydria (or Achlorhydria refers to the state where the production of hydrochloric acid in gastric secretions of the stomach and other digestive organs is absent or low. It is not just an issue of the elderly but of any who suffer from too little stomach acid). A decrease in stomach acid that fails to trigger reactions, the acid itself cannot break down foods to release minerals, vitamins and nutrients. Many micronutrients are “cleaved” or released from food while it’s in the stomach — if this action fails, then there’s an automatic nutritional or enzymatic insufficiency.
Anyone with liver disease is likely to have enzyme insufficiency. One of the more common conditions is known as alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (a genetic disorder that affects roughly 1:1,500 people worldwide.
Other illnesses, which at first diagnosis appear unrelated to enzymatic deficiency, also deserve attention:
- Crohn’s disease may result in enzyme deficiency.
- Iron deficiency or vitamin B12 deficiency may suggest that the digestive process is failing to cleave these nutrients from food.
- Vitamin D deficiency may indicate another malabsorption issues, just as night blindness can result from a vitamin A deficiency.
Other Symptoms of Enzyme Deficiency
- Mood swings
- Joint pain
Sometimes the parts are greater than the whole
There are many reasons why the gut is called the other brain and after this list it is easy to see why. Obviously if any part of the system is out of whack – it can really change your whole day but it can also affect other parts of the body.
Be sure that the digestive enzymes that you are taking are designed for the specific diet plan and types of foods that you are eating. As we have discussed, one size doesn't fit all and having the correct enzymes for how you eat makes all the difference.