What are digestive enzymes? What makes them so important?
Digestive enzyme supplementation is an alternative therapy that helps to correct digestive symptoms when certain foods are consumed. The most common type of digestive enzyme deficiency is known as lactose intolerance. Similarly, the decreased production of other digestive enzymes can cause similar symptoms – although many people do not understand the root of their digestive problems. Digestive enzymes are made naturally in the saliva, stomach, and in the small intestine. Every nutrient that we consume has a corresponding digestive enzyme responsible for breaking it down into the building blocks our body uses as energy. In lactose intolerance, the body has decreased output of the digestive enzyme called lactase. Decreased lactase results in lactose passing through the digestive system in an incompletely digested form, manifesting as uncomfortable symptoms. Although lactose intolerance is the most prevalent enzyme deficiency, there are several others. Perhaps even more concerning, nutrients that pass through the digestive system without being completely digested are not absorbed into the bloodstream. This means that the body is unable to reap the benefits of undigested nutrients.
What would cause the need for digestive enzyme supplementation? And how do I know if I need to supplement?
Although the need for digestive enzyme supplementation may seem abnormal, the truth is that most people need digestive enzyme supplementation. It’s estimated that only 12% of the U.S. adult population can properly digest dairy. There are several factors that can create the need for digestive enzyme supplementation. The most common cause is simply age. As we age, the digestive system slows its production of digestive enzymes. If you’ve noticed that you just can’t eat the foods you used to without symptoms, it’s very likely that digestive enzyme deficiency is to blame. Another common cause of digestive enzyme deficiency is illness. Any disease that affects the digestive system, the pancreas, the stomach, and even the gallbladder can cause disturbance in digestive enzyme production. Furthermore, there is a long list of medications that can secondarily cause digestive enzyme insufficiency.
I think I may have a digestive enzyme deficiency, so how do I know what kind of enzymes I need?
Signs and symptoms that indicate the need for digestive enzyme supplementation include: gas, bloating, heartburn, constipation, diarrhea, burping, and flatulence. If these symptoms are brought on by certain foods shortly after consumption, digestive enzyme supplementation may be the relief you’ve been searching for. Most people may reach for antacids and other over-the-counter remedies, but digestive enzyme supplementation is more efficient in providing relief. Instead of masking the symptoms, digestive enzyme supplementation actually prevents the symptoms altogether, protecting the digestive system from further inflammatory attacks and future subsequent conditions.
When should I take digestive enzymes? How do I know how many to take?
Digestive enzyme supplementation should be utilized approximately five minutes prior to consuming food. By placing the digestive enzymes in the stomach just before food is ingested, they will be used to break down the incoming food. When food is completely digested, the stomach has to work less hard. More importantly, all nutrients and minerals are absorbed into the bloodstream, allowing the body to use them appropriately in metabolism. Although many companies measure digestive enzyme activity directly, it’s more important to find a digestive enzyme supplement that contains the type of enzyme you specifically need. Your enzyme manufacturer should have knowledgeable staff that can help you find the enzyme for you. By asking you some questions about your dietary habits and your symptoms, it’s fairly easy to deduce which enzymes you may need to be supplementing. It’s important to understand that every body system is directly tied to the digestive system. Without a properly functioning digestive system, it will be difficult to achieve overall health.
The following should be considered when choosing a digestive enzyme:
Quality and price: Make sure you know the type of delivery method your enzyme supplement utilizes. Even digestive enzymes need enteric coating to ensure the acidic environment of the stomach does not destroy them before they come in contact with food. Each manufacturer utilizes a different enteric coating method, and some don’t even utilize enteric coating at all.
Reputation: It’s ideal to get your digestive enzyme from the manufacturer directly. Most enzyme distributors are simply that – distributors. Consequently, many distributors don’t know much about the manufacturing process of enzymes. Getting your enzymes directly from the manufacturer ensures you’re getting the type of product you’re looking for – as well as proper education on enzyme supplementation.
Source: Enzymes can be extracted from several sources, and by different methods. Although animal-sourced enzymes were originally thought to be the most potent, new research shows that vegetable-sourced enzymes are not only more effective, but compatible with vegetarian and vegan diets.
Multiple enzymes: Ensuring that your digestive enzyme is comprehensive is one of the most important aspects of choosing your supplement. Digestive enzymes that contain multiple types of enzymes allow the enzymes to work synergistically. For example, a digestive enzyme that aids in the digestion of lactose and casein (a protein found in milk) will work better than a simple lactase supplement.