Digestive enzymes - I bet you have heard of them before, especially if you frequent health websites like this one. Most likely you are here because you’re not sure whether or not you have enzyme deficiency and should be taking them!
Taking any sort of supplement without a clear understanding of why you’re taking them can be a problem, so you’re in the right place.
So what are digestive enzymes exactly? What does an enzyme do? Can a supplement fix enzyme deficiency? We are going to answer all your questions right here in this post!
WHAT ARE DIGESTIVE ENZYMES?
Your body needs nutrients to survive and thrive, so you eat food
However, your body can’t just take a chicken breast or a piece of kale and distribute it out to each of your cells. It first has to break down the food into specific nutrients (vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, simple sugars, etc.) and then the body can absorb these and use them for its varios needs.
I hear you:
“OK, Drew I get that. Can you just tell me what does an enzyme do?”
Patience, I’m not trying to be captain obvious.
Enzymes are macromolecular biological catalysts. That probably sounded like gibberish, but the important thing to note is that they are catalysts, meaning they allow a reaction to take place where something changes -without changing themselves. (That something being food)
So, what does an enzyme do? Why are they important?
They allow digestion to take place. Simplifying food in those basic nutrients and then transporting them through the bloodstream to the appropriate organs or cells for growth, repair, and energy.
Over two thousand types of enzymes have been identified, so if you ask “what does an enzyme do?” you may not always get the answer you need. What you need to know -most likely- is what digestive enzymes do.
Enzymes are primarily produced by the small intestine and pancreas, but also exist in your mouth and stomach. Out of all the types of enzymes available only six groups are involved in the digestion process, and out of those, there are three critical ones to look out for if you suspect enzyme deficiency.
The Three Main Types of Digestive Enzymes:
A simple way to classify them is looking at what does an enzyme do in the digestion process according to nutrient, therefore:
- Proteolytic Enzymes - the protein digesters
- Lipolytic Enzymes - the fat digesters
- Amylolytic Enzymes - the carbohydrate digesters
As you can probably gather by now, enzymes are critical for optimum health and survival.
When you have enough digestive enzymes and they are working properly, you are able to get all the nutrients you need from the food you eat (provided you are eating nutritious foods!).
Underperforming or limited digestive enzymes may lead to malnutrition.
When you don’t have enough of those main digestive enzymes or have poorly performing ones for some reason, even if you are eating healthy foods you won’t absorb all the nutrients that you need.
This is called enzyme deficiency and can be a significant health problem in the long run!
COMMON CAUSES OF AN ENZYME EFFICIENCY:
If one or more of the following common issues are present in your life, they may be causing inadequate or poor enzyme performance and regeneration:
Stress is a natural human response that is important for survival. Chronic stress, however, is one of the leading causes of disease and at the root of a large number of health issues.
When the body is stressed, it enters a “fight-or-flight” mode. It sends more energy into the extremities, pumps adrenaline into the bloodstream and puts the senses on high alert. The focus is moved AWAY from digestion and other bodily functions that can be put on “hold” until the danger is passed.
The problem occurs when this “hold mode” is never turned off.
A busy lifestyle, little sleep, overworking, poor diet, etc. can all put you into a state of chronic stress that slowly deteriorates systems in the body. What does an enzyme do at this moment? It stops working.
Chronic stress = decreased digestive function = enzyme deficiency.
Although we have self-produced enzymes, the body also relies on live enzymes found in raw foods. Around age 27, the human body starts to produce fewer enzymes than it did before.
If you have lived your life mostly eating processed foods, overcooked foods and meals laden with sugar, then chances are that you will suffer from enzyme deficiency at some point because once the body the body had less access to live enzymes and slowly produces fewer itself.
What does an enzyme do if it has fewer sources to support them?
It causes “age-dependent decline.” This may be why many people go through their teens and early twenties eating a poor diet feeling mostly okay, only to hit mid-twenties to find with a myriad of health issues.
Diseases are a significant cause of poor digestive enzyme function or enzyme deficiency, especially when it is an illness rooted in the pancreas (which is responsible for producing the bulk of digestive enzymes) and the intestinal tract.
The following are almost always accompanied by an impaired digestive enzyme activity:
- Cystic Fibrosis
- Pancreatic Cancer
- Celiac Disease
- Crohn’s Disease
- Liver disease
- Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)
If SIBO has developed, other symptoms may also arise including:
- Feeling heavy and/or bloated after meals
- Constipation and/or diarrhea
Acne, eczema, and unexplained skin rashes may all be signs of poor digestion and enzyme function. Additionally accelerated aging signs such as early pronounced wrinkles, may show poor vitamin absorption, for which enzymes are vital.
BRAIN FOG, HEADACHES, AND MIGRAINES
If you’re having problems concentrating, getting occasional migraines that seem to come out of nowhere, then you may have a nutrition absorption problem coming from enzyme deficiency.
Trouble digesting fatty foods (look for floating stool), inflammation in the digestive tract often seen as ‘bloating’, food allergies (manifesting physical reactions or unprocessed foods in stool), and low stomach acid or heartburn are all associated to enzyme deficiency.
MOOD SWINGS AND JOINT PAIN
That hangry feeling you recently developed, and inexplicable knee pain may also be a result of poor nutrient absorption
While many of these may be connected to other causes, if you haven’t found a solution it might be time to look at what does an enzyme do in those scenarios.
As you can see, poor nutrition, lack of supportive live enzymes, some chronic illnesses, and inflammation may lead to enzyme deficiency and other health issues that arise from poor nutrient absorption.
Fortunately, enzyme deficiency is reversible AND preventable!
7 TIPS TO CORRECT ENZYME DEFICIENCY
#1. TAKE ENZYME SUPPLEMENTS
If you are already deficient in digestive enzymes or have a gastrointestinal disorder or liver disease, then it may be beneficial to start taking enzyme supplements with your meals. They are always helpful but are even more important if your meal contains little-to-no raw foods.
They generally come as a pill.
Look for Full Spectrum Digestive Enzymes. Sometimes you can also find them as part of a meal replacement shake or protein powder.
#2. IMPROVE YOUR DIET
Eat fewer foods that are inflammatory to the digestive tract like dairy, wheat, processed foods, and refined sugars. Eat more raw foods, whole fruits and veggies, organic grass-fed meats, nuts and seeds, superfoods, healthy fats, and probiotic-rich foods.
Note: if you have been diagnosed with SIBO then you should only be eating small amounts of probiotic-rich foods.
Consult with your healthcare provider for specifics if treating enzyme deficiency.
#3. MANAGE CHRONIC STRESS
This is a must if you are serious about recovering from enzyme deficiency. We live in a go-go-go world, and a lot of us are stuffing down food during quick lunch breaks or while we’re on the move.
Try to eat more European style: slow, thoughtful, conscious meals.
Daily meditation is also a great, scientifically verified way to reduce stress and improve health and longevity. What does an enzyme do if you’re relaxed? It works better because it has the brain and hormonal power behind it to transport energy and nutrients
#4. DON’T DRINK WATER WITH MEALS
Although it is cultural to drink a big glass of water with meals, it is actually counter-productive for proper digestion. Doing so actually dilutes your digestive enzymes, making your body work that much harder to breakdown and absorb the nutrients in your food.
Try drinking water on its own before or in between meals instead of with them. Drink it no closer than 30 minutes before meals and not for at least 90 minutes afterward. This will give your body the best chance at absorbing nutrients without interruption.
#5. EAT FERMENTED FOODS OFTEN/TAKE PROBIOTICS
In most other cultures, fermented veggies of some kind are a part of most meals. This is incredibly beneficial for digestion and proper absorption of nutrients. Try:
- Fermented vegetables
- High-quality yogurt (homemade is best!)
Also, consider taking a daily probiotic supplement. Along with enzymes, the benefits of good probiotics for your health are nearly endless.
#6. DRINK GINGER TEA
Studies have found that ginger root actually stimulates brush-border enzymes and helps to increase pancreatic enzyme activity. Try drinking ginger tea after meals and before bed for optimum results (1,2).
#7. USE COCONUT OIL
Coconut oil is excellent for many reasons, one of which is lipase enzyme stimulation, which helps fat digestion. It is made up of medium-chain fatty acids, which are easy for the body to absorb and convert into energy (3).
Your gut is at the center of your health and wellbeing. Taking care of your gut, whether you are sick or not, should absolutely be at the top of your priority list.
If you want to avoid enzyme deficiency, improve longevity, digestion, feel better after meals, increase energy, get better sleep, and enjoy your life more, then it is time to take care of your gut!
Enzyme supplements are worth giving a try even if you’re not suffering from enzyme deficiency, for prevention purposes since they are very safe and you’ll be able to tell within a few days whether or not they are making a difference. Tells us your success stories!
- Platel, K., & Srinivasan, K. Influence of dietary spices or their active principles on digestive enzymes of small intestinal mucosa in rats. International journal of food sciences and nutrition, 1996; 47(1): 55-59.
- Prakash, U. N., & Srinivasan, K. Beneficial influence of dietary spices on the ultrastructure and fluidity of the intestinal brush border in rats. British Journal of Nutrition, 2010; 104(1): 31.
About The Author
Drew Canole is a rockstar in the world of fitness, nutrition and mindset, with a huge heart for others and doing his part to transform the world, one person at a time.
As the founder and CEO of Fitlife.TV, he is committed to sharing educational, inspirational and entertaining videos and articles about health, fitness, healing and longevity. He is also a best selling author and the founder of Organifi, an organic, incredibly delicious greens powder, chock-full of superfoods to make juicing easy no matter your busy schedule.