Digestive enzymes offer POWERFUL benefits to improve digestive health
(NaturalHealth365) If you frequently experience bloating and flatulence (gas), and the physical and … ahem… social discomfort that can ensue, you may be wondering if digestive enzymes could help. You’re definitely not alone. The use of over-the-counter digestive enzymes is growing by leaps and bounds, with some experts predicting that the global market for these supplements will balloon to a shocking $1 billion industry by the year 2025.
While digestive enzymes – proteins that help break down and absorb nutrients from food – are created naturally in the body, sometimes the supply is outstripped by the body’s demands. The result is digestive discomfort. (This is often the case when certain foods, such as beans, legumes, and dairy products, are consumed, and the body lacks the proper enzymes to digest them). For a closer look at the “nuts and bolts” of supplementary digestive enzymes – and a review from the Mayo Clinic – keep reading.
Here is what you need to know about how digestive enzymes perform their incredible functions
There are three primary types of digestive enzymes – proteases, lipases, and amylases. Proteases, or proteolytic enzymes, break down protein into small peptides and amino acids. At the same time, lipases work with liver bile to break down fats into fatty acids (plus a molecule called glycerol). As you can imagine, lipases are particularly necessary for your body to access essential fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamin D, E, A, and K. Finally, the amylase family of enzymes breaks down carbohydrates – such as starch – into simple sugars.
Although the lion’s share of digestive enzymes is produced in the pancreas, the mouth, salivary glands, stomach, and small intestine get in on the act too. Once the enzymes have done their work and the food is broken down, the nutrients are absorbed through the small intestine wall and then distributed throughout the bloodstream.
There are also a host of specialized digestive enzymes such as cellulase, which breaks down fiber, and lactase, which breaks down milk into milk sugars. Similarly, maltase, a type of amylase, breaks down maltose – or malt sugar – into simple sugars, while alpha-galactosidase can help break down sugars in vegetables.
Prescription and over-the-counter formulations both have their place
Sometimes, shortages in digestive enzymes result from specific and serious problems, such as exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, pancreatitis, pancreatic cysts, and pancreatic cancer. These deficiencies can cause malnutrition, shortage of essential vitamins, and severe gastrointestinal issues – and should be managed by a physician, who will often advise prescription digestive enzymes.
But, for routine bloating and flatulence that follow the ingestion of certain foods, over-the-counter supplements may be the way to go.
For example, researchers and natural health experts have gone “all in” on the incredible disease-fighting and health-preserving effects of cruciferous vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and kale. Their cancer-fighting isothiocyanates and their healthy cargo of fiber, carotenoids, and polyphenols make them a true boon to health. But, they can be notoriously hard to digest. You could choose to simply avoid these superfoods, but another solution may be available. The answer could be as simple as taking alpha-galactosidase supplements, commonly sold under the brand name Beano. These enzymes excel at breaking down cruciferous vegetables and legumes.
Another common problem is a deficiency in lactase, which is designed to break down lactose or milk sugar. This enzyme may offer relief to lactose-intolerant individuals who would otherwise suffer from cramping, nausea, and diarrhea after ingesting cows’ milk.
These useful proteins can join forces with probiotics and proper nutrition for better digestive health
Not only do proponents of digestive enzymes say that these supplements can relieve digestive discomfort – but they also believe they may help probiotic and prebiotic interventions be more effective.
Does this mean that probiotics and digestive enzymes are the same?
Probiotics are live organisms that promote the health of beneficial bacteria in the gut, while digestive enzymes actively help the body digest proteins, fats, and carbs. However, the benefits and functions of digestive enzymes and probiotics can overlap, as the appropriate probiotics can replenish gut bacteria to help break down fiber and restore normal digestive function.
In addition, it turns out that certain dietary choices are naturally high in digestive enzymes. These include raw papayas and pineapple, which contain antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and proteolytic digestive enzymes known as papain and bromelain. And, avocados have the advantage of not only contributing healthy monounsaturated fats to the diet but also contain lipases, which help turn fats into fatty acids – and are particularly useful after a high-fat meal. (So much for the outdated belief that avocados, themselves, are a “fattening” food. They are anything but!)
Other enzyme-rich foods include bananas (which contain amylases and glucosidases), raw honey (which contains amylases and proteases), ripe mangoes, and unpasteurized sauerkraut – which has the added advantage of being probiotic. As always, it’s best to seek out non-GMO, organic fare.
A wealth of digestive enzymes exist, many tailored to specific uses
Over-the-counter enzyme supplements are made from animal pancreases or assorted molds, yeast, bacteria, fungi, and fruit.
They are available in a wide variety of combinations and formulations. Some even contain prebiotic ingredients – such as inulin – and probiotics specifically added to enrich gut bacteria in the microbiome. (Tip: for maximum benefit, look for strains such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, L. plantarum, and L. salivarius). In addition, some digestive enzyme products contain time-honored carminatives (gas relievers) such as fennel, ginger, turmeric, and peppermint.
Natural health experts advise seeking out digestive enzymes free of wheat, gluten, egg, peanuts, magnesium stearate, hydrogenated fats, artificial sweeteners, and dyes. Tip: when possible, opt for products that have been certified by the Natural Products Association or USP Quality Supplements.
For best results, digestive enzymes should be taken before meals. Of course, check with your knowledgeable integrative doctor before supplementing, as digestive enzymes can interact with certain medications.
In a review published in Proceedings of the Mayo Clinic, the authors noted that the use of enzyme supplements seems to be increasing. Not only that, but “emerging clinical data seem to support many of (digestive enzymes’) purported benefits.” While more study is needed, it seems clear that digestive enzymes are emerging at the forefront of the field of improved digestive health.
Editor’s note: I highly recommend the digestive enzymes from LuvByNature. I use them every day and really enjoy the taste of the chewable tablets. Click here to learn more.
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