To break an apple down small enough to be used by our cells we first need to chew it. Thereafter much of the break down work is done by digestive enzymes. Specific digestive enzymes are needed to break down proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Enzymes in the saliva serve the additional function of signaling to the rest of the digestive system what food is coming and stimulates the digestive system. Similarly the hydrochloric acid in your stomach stimulates peristalsis.
If your body is not making enough enzymes to properly digest your food you could suffer from indigestion, bloating, flatulence, food allergies, inflammation and overgrowth of bad micro-organisms. You may feel worse after a meal instead of better. Insufficient enzymes also means food may not be digested properly and that you are not absorbing all the nutrients from your food. In addition to this, large partially digested food molecules can be identified as foreign and trigger an immune response in the gut. This can lead to increased inflammation, a permeable gut membrane and increased food intolerances.
The cells in the gut wall feedback signals or messages to your digestive system to make enzymes. If your gut is inflamed or permeable then these messages may not be sent sufficiently resulting in lower enzyme production.
If you experience the above mentioned symptoms, you can try taking digestive enzyme supplements with your meals. Digestive enzymes can safely be taken on a long term basis and will greatly benefit individuals who are low in enzymes. After some time following a healthy lifestyle you may find that your digestion has improved and is no longer necessary. Below we have listed the enzymes that digest each food category; you can check that your supplement you choose has at least one enzyme in each category.
- Betaine Hyrdochloride is usefull for those low with low stomach acid. Symptoms of low stomach acid include bloating, belching, burning, flatulence and a feeling of ‘fullness’ directly after meals. Hearburn can also be due to low stomach acid.
- Carbohydrates are digested by enzymes such as the amylases and pancreatin
- Proteins are digested by enzymes such as pepsin, proteases, papain, bromelain and pancreatin . Hydrochloric acid (HCl), the same acid found in your stomach, also helps digest protein
- Fats are digested by enzymes such as lipase, bromelain and pancreatin. Bile, a substance made in the liver and concentrated in the gall bladder, also helps break down fats. Ox bile is found in some digestive supplements.
- Other enzymes that are beneficial include lactase for digesting milk, alpha-galactosidase to help get through the fibre in vegetables, phytase for the phytic acid in grains and seeds, cellulose for cellulose in plant cells, invertase to break down sugar and amylo-glucosidase for cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli.
You can test the effectiveness of your enzyme supplements by stirring them into a bowel of thick porridge. The porridge should become runny after approximately 30 minutes.
Another way of increasing your daily enzyme intake is by eating raw or fermented food. These foods are naturally high in enzymes. When eating raw foods you want to chew them well to sufficiently break them up and liberate the enzymes.
In addition to enzymes, certain herbs can increase the secretion of gastric juices and enzyme production. Herbs that are good for digestion include bitter herbs, cumin, caraway, chinese hawthorn, ginger, fennel and dandelion. Consult with your health care practitioner or a consultant at a health shop to find a supplement that will work for you. Be carefull to avoid any supplements with a laxative as one of the ingredients.