“Fine-tune” your gut function with digestive enzymes

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digestive-enzymes(NaturalHealth365)  According to the National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, digestive diseases currently affect up to 70 million Americans.  These conditions can take a physical, emotional, and financial toll from the merely uncomfortable – such as chronic constipation – to the potentially debilitating – such as inflammatory bowel disease.

While Western medicine attempts to address digestive diseases with medication, these can feature toxic side effects – leaving many to turn to natural interventions for relief.  In a recent review, the authors reported that supplementation with digestive enzymes could improve the health and balance of the gut microbiome, helping to promote healthy gastrointestinal function and body weight.

Let’s take a closer look at digestive enzymes and their intriguing potential.

Digestive enzymes speed nutrient absorption

Simply put, digestive enzymes – sometimes called pancreatic digestive enzymes – are compounds produced in the pancreas to help the body break down and absorb nutrients.  Each type of enzyme has its own “specialty,” with lipase breaking fats into fatty acids, protease turning protein into amino acids, and amylase reducing carbohydrates to starches and then sugars.

Unfortunately, supplies of these important dietary enzymes decrease with normal aging.  And the slow-down in production begins early in life.  Scientists report that levels of digestive enzymes begin to drop after age 20!

Lipase is needed for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins

Lipase is of particular importance – as it supports nutrient absorption and helps the body make the most of fatty acids and fat-soluble nutrients, including the indispensable vitamins A, D, E, and K.  Lipase is also essential for cell membrane permeability, allowing nutrients to flow into cells while waste flows out – thereby maintaining this life-sustaining form of cellular “traffic.”

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Finally, lipase is critically important when regulating blood sugar or glucose.  Unsurprisingly, shortages of lipase interfere with fat digestion – and can cause digestive problems such as loose stools, bloating, and flatulence.  In fact, some scientists say that lipase deficiency is linked with celiac disease, heart disease, diabetes, and cystic fibrosis, along with high triglycerides and high LDL cholesterol.

Digestive enzymes can offer relief from common stomach complaints

If the body produces insufficient amounts of digestive enzymes, uncomfortable symptoms – including bloating, flatulence, nausea, abdominal discomfort, and acid reflux – can result.  Supplementing with lipase and other enzymes may help to alleviate these.  Lipase enzyme supplements may also support the health of the gut microbiome while discouraging food cravings and binge eating.  This, in turn, helps to support healthy weight and reduce the risk of obesity – as studies have shown that improving bacterial balance may help decrease excess body fat.

Supplementation with digestive enzymes is also believed to modulate inflammation and alleviate symptoms of digestive disorders, such as a “leaky gut.”  In addition, protease supplementation is believed to help act against pathogenic (harmful) bacteria and prevent intestinal infections.

Support gut health with natural techniques

To promote digestive well-being, natural health experts advise eating healthy amounts of pineapple, papaya, mango, and kiwi (high in proteolytic enzymes), avocados (these contain lipase), and probiotic foods such as sauerkraut and yogurt with active cultures.  In addition, opt for organic, GMO-free foods whenever possible – and avoid alcohol, fried foods, fast foods, and processed foods laden with unhealthy fats, refined sugar, preservatives, and sodium.

Digestive enzymes, available as dietary supplements, are typically produced from microbial sources, such as fungus, and plant sources, such as papaya.  Look for a formulation with various enzymes, including amylase, lipase, cellulase, and lactase.  Some products also contain beneficial digestive herbs, such as peppermint and ginger.  Before supplementing, consult with a knowledgeable healthcare provider or coach, who can help determine the right combination of enzymes for you.

Experts recommend taking digestive enzymes 10 minutes before a meal.  If you take probiotics as well, these should be taken after meals.

Whether you suffer from a digestive discomfort or just want to keep your gastrointestinal system and metabolism “on point” and running smoothly, supplementing with digestive enzymes may be a really wise choice.

Editor’s note: My personal favorite for digestive enzymes is LuvByNature Digestive Enzymes, chewable and delicious.

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