Digestive enzymes might be the most overlooked, under-appreciated part of a healthy digestive system. Chances are, you’ve given them little thought. Perhaps, you don’t even know what they are. Article Shortcuts
About 20% of the US population is known to have a digestive issue, or about 60-70 million people. The percentage continues to grow in the US and across the world. A lack of enzymes contributes to these digestive problems.
Symptoms can be as subtle as burping or gas following meals, or more extreme like constant diarrhea or periodic pain.
Exercise, increased core body temperature, injury, stress, and certain diseases increase the use of enzymes. Aging, and certain diseases, like pancreatitis, decrease production. Whether you experience an increased need, or decreased production, the result is the same. Enzyme insufficiency.
Digestive enzyme insufficiency is linked to Irritable Bowel Syndrome, hyperthyroidism, Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, excessive exercise, and diets high in processed foods.
This was one of the most challenging articles I’ve ever written. Normally, I can write a new article in three to five days, but this one took a couple of weeks. I found myself going down all sorts of rabbit holes, fascinated with the significant role enzymes play in our health. My notes for this article looked more like notes that could fill a whole book.
Part of the reason I did so much more reading was that this is a personal topic. I’ve had my own digestive challenges in the past, and I have a family history of it as well.
It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I got some control over my own issues. Prior to that, my stomach would feel irritated and look distended for hours after each meal.
I had horrible gas at night. Every night. If I were single, I probably wouldn’t have cared as much, but when my gorgeous wife is sitting across the room and has to bear it, it’s kind of embarrassing.
I’m convinced my issues were enzyme-related, and feel much better today, although I do still have challenges once in a while.
The articles I write come from a combination of education, experience, and experimentation. This one especially so.
All that said, I kept cutting stuff out of this article to make it short enough for you to read it when you saw it. If it was too long, I figured you’d set it aside and not come back. I think there is enough in this article for you to understand importance of enzymes for optimal health, yet brief enough that you’ll read through the whole thing.
Enzymes speed up the rate of virtually every reaction in the body. You use more than 5000 different enzymes every day. Most of those enzymes are metabolic enzymes, responsible for everything from your thoughts to the thickness of your blood.
A relatively small group of your 5000 enzymes convert the food you eat, to nutrients that fuel and build your body.
Without digestive enzymes, you wouldn’t break down protein, fat, and carbohydrates, and your foods would pass through you undigested. Along the way, the food would destroy the lining of your intestines, cause immune reactions and cause inflammation. Nutritionally, you’d starve, no matter how much food you ate.
Proteases (also known as proteolytic enzymes) act on protein in the digestive system. However, they also affect many other areas of the body.
You might recall from the article, Amino Acids: How to Choose and Use Wisely, the average healthy adult breaks down 250-300 grams of protein, throughout the body every day. Your body does this to replace damaged or aged tissues with new ones. Proteolytic enzymes play an important role in this process.
Because the body can produce a limited number of proteolytic enzymes, it’s possible for demand to exceed supply. Following an injury or extreme physical stress, proteolytic enzymes can be directed to the tissue repair, leaving the digestive system without enough to complete digestion.
This could be why athletes often deal with digestive issues. If they don’t get extra proteolytic enzymes through food or supplements, their available enzymes take part in tissue repair, leaving them short on what they need for proper digestion.
On the other hand, in some people, enzymes are directed to digestion, leaving the rest of their body short. In this case, inflammation could get out of hand, or tissues and joints could get irritated.
When supplemented in the diet, proteolytic enzymes have been shown to reduce stiffness and exercise-related soreness.*
European practitioners regularly recommend proteolytic enzymes to support overall health, maintain normal inflammatory levels, to assist with recovery from injury or surgery, to relieve symptoms of arthritis, and to complement cancer therapy.*
Because food sensitivities are usually an immune reaction to a certain protein, which is not digested properly, increasing your enzyme intake may help with food sensitivities.*
For example, proline is an amino acid found in wheat and casein. Without the enzymes necessary to break down proline, it enters the small intestine intact, and can damage the tissues of the intestines and create an autoimmune response.
Proline can also have opioid-like effects on the nervous system. Autism and proline seem to have a strong connection, which is why parents of autistic children are often encouraged to keep their kids on a strict gluten-free and dairy-free diet.
Two specific proteases, prolyl endopeptidase (PEP), and dipeptidyl peptidase IV (DPP-IV) have been shown to help break down proline, and could help reduce the effects of this amino acid on the body.
However, even enzyme supplements don’t seem to be powerful enough to completely breakdown prolines. If you’re gluten-sensitive or allergic to gluten, you’re better off staying 100% gluten-free.
Proteases and peptidases help digest protein when it reaches the stomach and in the small intestine.
For proteolytic enzymes to effectively convert dietary protein to peptides and amino acids in the stomach, the stomach must maintain a highly acidic environment. If you have low stomach acid, due to genetics, stress, or medications, you basically make your proteolytic enzymes inactive.
As a result, protein can pass from the stomach to the small intestine without proper digestion, which can cause food sensitivities and increase inflammation.
As the name suggests, carbohydrases speed the breakdown of carbohydrates. Amylase helps convert starch to glucose. Cellulase helps break down some plant fiber.
Lactase helps you break down lactose, or milk sugar. Most adults are deficient in this enzyme, which makes for a double-whammy against dairy. Casein, one of the dairy proteins contains proline as I mentioned above, and then most people don’t have lactase to break down lactose.
Lactose consumption often leads to bloating, gas, or diarrhea. Two-thirds of the adult population totally lacks the lactase enzyme.
It kind of makes you wonder if adult humans are supposed to consume dairy, doesn’t it? That’s an entire article of its own for another day.
If you do choose to consume dairy, and you do have issues with lactose, supplementing with lactase can help you avoid some of the digestive issues.*
Also, if you can get your hands on raw, unpasteurized dairy, it’ll have the enzymes in it to help you digest it. Lactase is destroyed during the processing of conventional milk.
Alpha-galactosidase assists with the breakdown of legumes, cruciferous vegetables and some grains. If you’re low on this enzyme, you’ll experience gas following meals with these foods. You know how the poem goes…
Beans, beans, the magical fruit. The more you eat, the more you toot. The more you toot, the better you feel. Let’s have beans for every meal.
Carbohydrases act on carbohydrates in the mouth, the upper part of the stomach, and the small intestine.
Low levels of lipase enzymes are seen in those with late-stage pancreatitis and cystic fibrosis. Supplemental lipase is often recommended in those with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency.
Of the three enzyme types, decreased lipase production has the potential to be the most problematic. If you do not properly digest fat, it will completely pass through you, a condition known as “steatorrhea.”
Pancreatitis, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Celiac disease, Cystic fibrosis, Zollinger-Elilison syndrome, Giardiasis, and Graves disease or hyperthyroidism can all lead to Steatorrhea.
Symptoms of steatorrhea include diarrhea, foul-smelling stool, weight loss, jaundice, distended stomach, abdominal pain, and/or gas and rumbling of the stomach.
Not only do you lose the nutrition fat provides, but you’re also unable to absorb essential fatty acids (omega-3, omega-6) and fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Protein digestion begins when you first start chewing. There are two enzymes in your saliva called amylase and lipase. They mostly break down carbohydrates and fats. Once a protein source reaches your stomach, hydrochloric acid and enzymes called proteases break it down into smaller chains of amino acids. Advertisement Advertisement
Amylase and other carbohydrase enzymes break down starch into sugar. Protease enzymes break down proteins into amino acids. Lipase enzymes break down lipids (fats and oils) into fatty acids and glycerol. Advertisement Advertisement
Microbial-sourced enzymes from fungi (including yeasts) and bacterial sources can be used by vegetarians and vegans and have good gastric resilience. Microbial enzymes can include amylase, glucoamylase, proteases, lipase and multiple types of saccharidases including lactase (to digest lactose), alphagalactosidase (for digesting beans, legumes and cruciferous vegetables) and cellulase (to digest cellulose), along with hemicellulase, xylanase and pectinase, which are all very important enzymes for digesting plant components. Phytase is another supplementary digestive enzyme that can be taken in a broad-spectrum formulation to support the digestion of phytic acid, a component of plant material that binds minerals reducing their bioavailability.
The first stage to digestion perfection is to address the diet, encouraging reduction/elimination of foods and drinks that cause and contribute to gut inflammation and to increase more plant-based foods. Digestive juices and colon function, not to mention numerous other areas of our body, require adequate fluid levels so1.5-2L hydrating fluids daily is recommended. Digestive supporting supplements like digestive enzymes work in tandem with these dietary changes and can be used acutely or longer-term to support digestion.
Enzyme activity (or potency) is a measure of how much enzyme is needed to accomplish a specific reaction within a specified time. The Food Chemical Codex (FCC) is the industry standard for measuring enzyme activity. Each enzyme is assigned their own FCC potency (activity) unit. This not only demonstrates the amount of activity of each enzyme in a product but also ensures the enzyme levels are standardised and allows comparison between different FCC labelled products.
Animal-sourced enzymes include pancreatin, pepsin, trypsin and chymotrypsin. Pancreatin is still often used by practitioners and usually includes most of the enzymes necessary for digestion of proteins, fats and carbohydrates in the small intestine (i.e. proteases to break down proteins into amino acids; amylase to cleave complex carbohydrate molecules into manageable sugars; and lipase to facilitate the breakdown of lipids).
Plant-sourced enzymes like bromelain (from pineapple) and papain (from papaya) provide proteolytic enzymes, which break down proteins, and are included in many digestive formulas. These can be very useful to take every day with food or even as the occasional “aftermeal” enzyme to encourage the completion of the digestive process. They have additional use as systemic enzymes in promoting healthy inflammation resolution and are suitable for vegetarians and vegans. Gluten specific proteases can be included in specialist formulations to assist in the degradation of gluten proteins.
in general, enzymes as we know are classified by which particular substrate they break down and are named accordingly. Protease enzymes are responsible for the break down of Proteins into simpler forms such as amino acids. In terms of digestion, large protein chains are broken down by gastric protease (aka pepsin (which first comes in the form of pepsinogen which is activated to pepsin by the HCL acid in the stomach)) to form large polypeptides. they are then broken down further by pancreatic protease (aka trypsin) into smaller peptides. They are then further broken down by peptidase into the simpest form – amino acids.
Which enzymes break down proteins?
Which enzymes break down proteins answers?
Which enzymes break down carbohydrates apex?
Which enzymes break down proteins a amylases B lipases C proteases D nucleases?