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You Are What You Digest: What Do Digestive Enzymes Do?

Gastrointestinal conditions are a common complaint among millions of adults worldwide. In Australia alone, more than 10 million people over the age of 18 report experiencing GI issues on a regular basis (1). 

For many people, the root of issues like gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhoea is poor digestion. When they start to digest their food better, their symptoms and quality of life improve in a dramatic way. Remember, it's not just about what you eat; it's about how well you digest what you eat. 

One of the best tools for improving digestion is the use of digestive enzymes. Read on to learn more about what digestive enzymes are, the benefits they have to offer, and how you can choose the best ones for your needs.

What Do Digestive Enzymes Do?

Digestive enzymes play a key role in helping the body to break down food. Without sufficient amounts of these enzymes, your body may have a hard time processing certain foods, and you may be more prone to digestive issues and other health problems when you consume them.

Different types of enzymes break down different nutrients. For example, protease breaks down protein and lipase breaks down lipids (or fats). If a person lacks a particular enzyme, they will have trouble digesting some nutrients. 

For example, without enough of the enzyme lactase, the body will have a hard time digesting lactose, which is found in dairy products. People in this situation who are lactose intolerant (68 per cent of people worldwide) may get very sick whenever they consume food that contains dairy (2). If they supplement with a digestive enzyme product that contains lactase, though, they may find that they can eat dairy without any problems. 

The body naturally produces digestive enzymes in the saliva as well as in the pancreas, liver, and gallbladder. Despite this fact, many people can benefit from consuming supplemental enzymes, especially when they're dealing with prolonged digestive problems. 

Digestive Enzymes Benefits

There are lots of benefits that come with digestive enzyme supplementation. The following are some of the primary reasons why a person might choose to add them to their supplement routine:

Improved Nutrient Absorption

It doesn't matter how nutrient-dense your diet is if you're not absorbing all the nutrients you're eating. Digestive enzymes can help you get more out of the foods you consume on a regular basis. These foods will actually get put to use instead of just sitting in the digestive tract causing problems.

Decreased Intestinal Permeability

Long-term digestive issues can lead to increased intestinal permeability. This condition is also known as leaky gut.

Leaky gut occurs when the tight junctions of the digestive tract start to open up, causing food particles to leak into the bloodstream. It is associated with a series of health problems, including digestive issues, skin problems, and autoimmune diseases (3).

Symptom Management

Many people find that, when they start taking digestive enzymes, their digestive symptoms improve. They feel less discomfort after consuming certain foods, and their quality of life increases. They might be less prone to other issues not directly related to digestion, too, such as skin issues, allergies, and mood disorders (4). 

Improved Stomach Acid Production

Supplementing with digestive enzymes can also aid in stomach acid production. Low levels of stomach acid can exacerbate digestive issues and make it harder for the body to break down food. Low stomach acid is linked, in particular, to poor utilization of vitamin B12 (5). This can cause fatigue, anaemia, and other serious health issues. 

Digestive Enzymes vs Probiotics

Some people are confused about the difference between digestive enzymes and probiotics. Both enzymes and probiotics can help when it comes to improving digestion and nutrient absorption. They have different functions and structures, though.  

For example, enzymes are biologically active proteins that are found throughout the body. Probiotics, on the other hand, are living bacterial organisms that reside in the digestive tract. The body naturally produces enzymes, but it does not naturally produce probiotics.

Both probiotics and enzymes work in the digestive system and promote proper nutrient break down and utilization. Enzymes work in other metabolic processes of the body beyond digestion.

How to Choose the Best Digestive Enzymes

If you want to add digestive enzymes to your supplement protocol but aren't sure where to start, it's important to note that not all enzymes are created equal. Don't just look up a list of digestive enzymes online and choose the first one you see.

There are some key factors you should take into account when shopping for these products, including the following:

Consider Your Needs

Start by considering your specific digestion issues. If you know that you have trouble digesting dairy, for example, you might benefit from a digestive enzyme product that contains lactase. 

Read the Ingredient List

Always check the ingredient list to see what's included in a supplement before taking it. At the very least, it ought to contain protease and lipase to help with protein and fat digestion. 

Combine Enzymes with Probiotics

It can be helpful to take a product like Enbiotic that contains both digestive enzymes and probiotics. This helps you see the benefits of adding both supplements to your routine and may yield more noticeable results when it comes to improving gut health and digestion. 

Try Digestive Enzymes Today

There are plenty of reasons why you should incorporate digestive enzymes into your supplement regime. Keep the tips listed above in mind so you know how to choose the right enzymes for your specific needs.

Don't forget to check out our online store today as well. You'll find high-quality, lab-tested digestive enzymes there along with a wide range of other beneficial gut health supplements.  

If you would like any more information regarding the contents of this article or have any questions you can head to our Virtual Clinic to book a free 20 minute consultation with one of our experienced Naturopaths.

References

1. 10 Daily News. More Than Ten Million Australians Have Gut Health Problems (2018). Viewed at https://10daily.com.au/news/australia/a180718jdm/more-than-ten-million-australians-have-gut-health-problems-20180718

2. Storhaug, C., Fosse, S., Fadnes, L. Country, regional, and global estimates for lactose malabsorption in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The Lancet. 2(10), 738-746 (2017). 

3. Mu, Q., Kirby, J., Reilly, C., Luo, X. Leaky Gut As a Danger Signal for Autoimmune Diseases. Frontiers in Immunology. 8(598), 1-41 (2017).

4. Mamadou, M. The Use of Digestive Enzymes in Specific Digestive Disorders. Natural Medicine Journal. 5(9) (2013). Viewed at https://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/journal/2013-09/use-digestive-enzymes-specific-digestive-disorders

5. Cavalcoli, F., Zilli, A., Conte, D. Massironi, S. Micronutrient deficiencies in patients with chronic atrophic autoimmune gastritis: A review. 23(4), 563-572 (2017).

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