Digestive Enzymes

Definition

An enzyme is a molecule, often very complex, which enables the transformation of biological molecules. It takes energy to create enzymes. Enzymes are able to aid in the process of creating molecules and taking molecules apart. In considering digestive enzymes we are mainly concerned with the the digestive system's ability to breakdown foods.

Where are digestive enzymes made?

Starting from the mouth enzymes are created in:

  • the salivary glands (found in the cheeks and under the tongue) - create amylases which begin the breakdown of carbohydrates.
  • the stomach, where acids, made in the stomach, work with the enzyme, pepsin to begin to break down protein.
  • the pancreas (located behind the stomach) which drains into the first part of the small intestine (the duodenum) and floods our food with alkaline-rich juices loaded with amylases, proteases (for carbohydrates), lipases (for fats and oils).
  • the duodenum which creates additional enzymes to do the detailed work of creating highly specific enzymes to do the remainder of the disassembly of protein into its constituent amino acids and take apart DNA and RNA.

 

What do digestive enzymes do?

Food, and especially protein, when we we eat it, comes in very complex molecules, far too large to be absorbed by our digestive system. These proteins look like tangled, knotted, rope (see below). The 'knots' are amino acids, the building blocks out of which protein is made. Unless it is broken down, this protein is useless to us. And if the whole protein does get into our bloodstream it can be very dangerous leading to allergic reactions.

So the role digestive enzymes play is crucial - they make it possible for food to safely gain entry to our bloodstream. The following illustration is an example of the complexity of protein in our food. Each of the coils below are composed of thousands of amino acids and need to be separated to make them useful. Some enzymes break up the amino acids linked together (shown by the pink coils). Some break the bonds between the coils (illustrated by the ribbons).

Protein folds

 

Why are digestive enzymes supplements important?

A large amount of our physical energy goes into producing digestive enzymes. Why? Because without them the food we eat either goes straight through us or becomes dangerous. As we age, our ability to create enzymes diminishes. Also, illness can create weakness in our digestive processes which will benefit by the addition of supplemental digestive enzymes. Many people chose to take enzymes to support their digestion because they feel better when they do.

How do you know if you should take supplementary enzymes?tummyache

If you have abdominal discomfort, bloating, excess gas, or burping, possibly with an accompanying headache, itch, swelling in your ankles or other tissues, you may have a problem due to a deficiency of digestive enzymes. Food allergies are another reason why supplementing with enzymes is important. If you have hives, it is a sure sign that you have developed leaky gut and need to take digestive enzymes.

How do you chose a digestive enzyme supplement?

A good supplement should assist you in breaking down proteins (proteases), fats (lipases), carbohydrates: including complex sugars (amylase) and cellulose (cellulase). It should also help with the digestion of milk sugar (lactase).

I prefer to recommend a vegetarian based digestive enzyme because I am concerned with the safety of using beef or pork pancreatic products or beef based bile.

These products are in vegetarian capsules and are combined with AFA. The first of these enzymes, while very good, is more or less straightforward (it's the one I use). The other is combined with AFA, fennel seed, ginger root, and cayenne root. It is warming and supports digestion in people with weak digestion (the one my wife, Diane uses). For more information on the excellent products, please click here.

 

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