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What Are Digestive Enzymes?
Enzymes are protein substances that work as catalysts for the digestive system. As food is ingested, enzymes are released by saliva in the mouth, helping to break down food into smaller bits that can be absorbed through the intestinal wall. As food flows through the digestive tract, other enzymes are released until the ultimate breakdown of food occurs in the small intestine.
Researchers have identified more than 2,700 different enzymes in the human body. For the purpose of digestion, the most common digestive enzymes are:
- Protease breaks down long protein chains found in meats, nuts, eggs, and cheese.
- Amylase breaks down large carbohydrates, starches, and sugars found in potatoes, fruits, vegetables, and many snack foods.
- Lipase breaks down fats found in most dairy products, nuts, oils, and meats.
- Lactase breaks down lactose (milk sugars).
- Cellulase breaks down the bonds found in fiber. Interestingly, cellulase is not found in the human system, only in plant enzymes.
- Maltase helps convert complex sugars found in malt and grain foods to glucose. All raw food contains its own enzymes. However, as a result of the way we prepare food, many of the enzymes naturally present foods is destroyed. Enzymes are killed when exposed to temperatures over 188 degrees Fahrenheit. And, pasteurization, the process in which dairy products and fruit juices are heated to kill bacteria, also destroys enzymes.
Without enough digestive enzymes, the nutrients in the foods you eat may not get absorbed. In addition, food does not get broken down properly, causing it to ferment in the stomach and small intestines. This could not only lead to uncomfortable bloating and discomfort, it may also trigger constipation and even diarrhea.
One way to replenish your stores of digestive enzymes is to eat raw fruits or vegetables at every meal. This is particularly important when ingesting hard-to-digest foods, such as meat. When raw food is eaten, the enzymes present within the food are released.
Foods rich in enzymes include fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, and miso. Fresh fruits, particularly papaya and pineapple, are also excellent sources of enzymes. Papaya contains the naturally occurring digestive enzyme papain, which helps to digest protein, while pineapples contain the enzyme bromelain, which acts as an aid for ingestion.
Supplementation is another easy way to give your body the digestive enzymes it needs to breakdown the foods you eat. Nutri-Health offers a variety of formulas that include enzymes. In TruDigest we’ve combined 5 vegetarian enzymes with other ingredients to address upper GI concerns. And, in Flora Zyme we’ve partnered 18 vegetarian digestive enzymes with probiotics to support regularity and promote good digestion and colon health.