You can consume a diet moderate in calories that consists almost exclusively of healthy foods, getting in a broad range of micro–nutrients (vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients). Yet, you can still be deficient in the nutrients that are abundant in these foods. How can that be?
It’s due to a fact that may be hard to wrap your brain around: Your gastrointestinal (GI) tract, in the center of your being, is actually on the exterior of your body. So, yes, the human body encases a long curvy donut hole that is on the “outside” of you.
The foods you consume don’t enter your body until they are absorbed through some place along the digestive pathway, particularly your small intestine, although nutrients can enter your body through the lining in your mouth, stomach, or large intestine, as well.
How nutrients are absorbed
So when you consume food, you don’t automatically accrue the advantages of the nutrients from the foods you’ve taken in. This happens only after the nutrients from your food are absorbed into your body. Those who suffer from digestive problems such as IBS, Crohn’s, allergies, leaky gut syndrome, celiac disease, and other conditions often follow healthy nutrition plans. But many of these beneficial nutrients are eliminated (sometimes, ahem, violently), providing little to no nutritional advantage. This rapid-fire expulsion or a clogged drain harm your body in the short term. But this inability to absorb calories and nutrients due to irregular digestion are often precursors to other health problems such as various forms of cancer, heart problems, type II diabetes, and others.
When your goal is to boost the absorption of nutrients, you need to make the most of the foods you consume. While emphasizing those you like and the ones that your body tolerates well, you should also consider supplementing digestive enzymes that will help support absorption of nutrients from the foods you’re consuming.
Digestive enzymes are proteins that create chemical reactions that help your body break down food, allowing nutrients to enter more efficiently through your digestive tract and be more readily processed for numerous physiological processes that support health. Yet there are many different types of digestive enzymes, addressing specific types of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and dietary fats), as well as enzymes that support the digestion of particular foods. That’s because enzymes and foods have specific “lock-and-key” fits at the molecular level that allow them to work together.
What’s important to understand is that specific enzymes help you digest and absorb the constituents of different foods. No single enzyme helps with all foods, just as no key opens every lock.
What are the most important digestive enzymes?
When you’re seeking better absorption of nutrients from the foods you consume, here are some of the most important digestive enzymes you should consider supplementing and what they’ll help you absorb more efficiently.
- Proteases: These enzymes break the bonds in large protein molecules, helping the amino acids from protein enter your body more readily. Protease enzymes are particularly important for those who have trouble absorbing protein. This group of enzymes helps reduce inflammation and supports immune function, helping to combat muscle-wasting conditions.
- Papain: This enzyme from tropical fruits such as papaya helps break down large protein molecules into smaller units for easier digestion. Recent research shows that consumption of papain helps support immune function to modulate leukocytes. In addition, papain helps neutralize harmful free radicals that damage cells.
- Lipase: This enzyme is produced in the pancreas and released into the small intestine, helping you break down and absorb the dietary fats you consume. Having plentiful lipase in your system reduces the consequences of celiac disease and cystic fibrosis.
- Amylase: Found in saliva and pancreatic fluids, this enzyme allows you to absorb carbohydrates in your mouth and farther along your digestive tract. Research shows that higher levels of amylase help reduce the onset and severity of type 2 diabetes.
- Lactase: One of the most common “allergies” is lactose intolerance. This is often due to a low level of the digestive enzyme lactase. Supplementing lactase can often help people who are lactose-intolerant consume somewhat larger amounts of milk-based products without suffering digestive consequences.
- Pancreatin: The supplemental version of this enzyme typically comes from the pancreas of pigs or cows. In humans, it supports pancreatic function for those who suffer from illnesses including cystic fibrosis and digestive problems. Pancreatin contains amylase, lipase, and protease.
How to take enzymes
Here are some ideas about how you should balance your diet and digestive enzyme intake for best results. These are highly dependent upon your individual needs or concerns. You should have an honest conversation with your doctor or a nutrition specialist for best results.
- Supplement enzymes that improve digestion of foods you have difficulty with. Seek out these enzymes and consume small amounts of these foods to your tolerance, following the labeling instruction on these stand-alone or full-spectrum enzyme products.
- Consume plenty of fiber based on your tolerance and need. The average American does not consume enough fiber. Fiber is the nondigestible form of carbohydrates that we consume through plants (vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, etc.). Fiber comes in both insoluble and soluble forms, and it can speed or slow digestion. Seek out the foods or supplemental forms that support your condition.
- Support your health with probiotics. Probiotics are the healthy bacteria that live in our GI system. These “bugs” support efficient, healthy digestion. While you can increase these through supplementation, you can also boost them through food choices that are high in yeast and fungi. Good choices include yogurt, kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, miso, and (yay!) dark chocolate.
- Get in the foods that boost your health goals. Foods should be your primary way to target any nutrition deficits. Use the other supplements and suggestions in this article to help you make the foods you consume more effective as you strive for long-term health and well-being.
Should you use digestive enzymes?
If you experience any gut issues, including frequent or intermittent bouts of diarrhea, stomach upset or constipation, then you should consider supplementing digestive enzymes. Of course, you should also have a detailed conversation with your doctor for a full-panel diagnosis. Digestive enzymes can help you maintain your health and longevity, but they are not a cure for an undiagnosed, worsening health problem. Be proactive about your health by consulting with your physician in addition to considering supplementation of digestive enzymes.