What Are Digestive Enzymes and How Do They Work

Digestive enzymes, which naturally occur in your body, are an essential part of your digestive system. Your body cannot break down foods so that nutrients can fully absorb them.

Lack of digestive enzymes can cause a range of GI symptoms. Even if you eat a healthy diet, it can cause malnutrition.

Some health conditions may affect the production of digestive enzymes. To help your body digest food efficiently, you can add digestive enzymes to your meals.

What is a digestive enzyme?

Enzymes are made by your body in the digestive system. This includes the stomach and small intestine. The pancreas is responsible for the largest percentage.

Digestive enzymes are essential for the body to break down carbohydrates, fats and proteins. This is essential to ensure optimal health and the absorption of nutrients. The nutrients in your food will go to waste if there are no enzymes.

Exocrine pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI) is a condition where a deficiency in digestive enzymes can lead to malnutrition and poor digestion. Digestive enzyme replacement might be an option if this happens.

Some enzymes are prescribed by a doctor, while others can be purchased over-the-counter (OTC).

There are two ways to get digestive enzymes: your body makes some enzymes by itself in saliva, pancreas and liver.

How Digestive Enzymes work

These enzymes, along with acids and bile work together to make food digestible so that it can be used by our bodies. Your saliva contains digestive enzymes which start to work on carbohydrates and fats.

Different enzymes are released when food reaches your stomach. These enzymes then become activated by stomach acid. This allows you to continue digestion. Stomach enzymes are responsible for breaking down proteins.

The pancreas and the small intestine release digestive enzymes to continue the digestion of proteins, carbs, and fats as food enter the small intestine. The first segment in the small intestine is duodenum. It finishes digestion and sends food waste further into the small intestine (large intestine).

Forms of digestive enzymes

The major forms of enzymes include:

● Amylase

It can be found in the small intestine and salivary glands. Ptyalin, a type of amylase, acts on starches once the food has been in your mouth. Even after digestion, it remains active.

● Protease

Protease is produced by the stomach, small intestine, and pancreas. Most chemical reactions occur in the small intestine and stomach. Pepsin, the main digestive enzyme, attacks the stomach protein molecules. Many other pancreatic enzymes work together when protein molecules reach the small intestine.

● Lipase

Lipase is produced by the small intestine and pancreas. The functions of lipids include long-term energy storage and cellular health. Breast milk also contains a category of lipase to help babies digest fat particles better while they are nursing.

There are many other types of enzymes available, such as brush border enzymes that are found in the small intestine. These include lactase which breaks down milk sugar lactose and sucrose which breaks down sucrose.

What factors can interfere with healthy digestion

A few factors can affect digestion daily are:

  1. Standard American Diet is full of processed, refined, preserved, chemically altered, altered, and genetically modified foods.
  2. Stress. Multi-tasking and being in hurry can lead to a lack of proper chewing and a higher demand on the digestive organs. Cortisol levels will rise if you feel rushed or under pressure. Cortisol levels that are high suppress motility and digestive secretions. Everybody experiences some level of stress at times.
  3. Prescription and over-the counter medications that inhibit acid, as well as antibiotics to alter gut flora.

The Bottom Line

Digestive enzymes are essential for good nutrition and overall health. They aid in the absorption and utilization of nutrients from foods you eat. Certain types of food may cause side effects, digestive problems, and malnutrition without them.

Enzyme replacement may be an effective option for some GI disorders. Consult your doctor about your symptoms and possible causes. Also, ask if enzyme substitution might be an option.

If you are in good health, it is a good idea to eat a plant-based diet. Do not take enzyme supplements if your doctor says your enzyme levels are normal.

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