When you eat a meal, your body needs to break it down into smaller nutrients, so your cells can use these nutrients from your food for energy and function. However, the process of breaking down food is highly impacted by one thing: the function of digestive enzymes.
The function of digestion enzymes depends on which specific enzyme it is. For example, certain enzymes help break down each food type, like carbohydrates, fiber, protein and fats.
Top Enzymes That Help With Digesting Foods
Here's a quick look at the most common enzymes and what foods they break down:
Amylase breaks down complex carbohydrates, like potatoes and rice, into simple sugar molecules.
Protease breaks down proteins, like chicken, into amino acids and peptides.
Lipase breaks down fats, like avocado, into smaller fatty acids that the body can use.
Lactase breaks down lactose found in dairy products for proper digestion.
Papain helps break down proteins into amino acids.
Xylanase breaks down plant fibers found in beans, legumes, and fibrous vegetables into sugar molecules.
Bromelain helps break down proteins into amino acids
Should You Be Using Digestive Enzymes?
Your body produces some of these enzymes naturally, like amylase, protease and lipase — but only if it's functioning optimally. You can receive other enzymes through the food you eat. It's also important to note the production of your enzymes can be affected by many things, including:
Your age; as you age, your internal production of digestive enzymes starts to decline.
If you have common food sensitivities, like lactose (dairy) or gluten, it can be linked to lower enzyme production or other digestive imbalances.
Imbalances within your body, like low stomach acid, can lead to weakened digestion and also affect enzyme production and their effectiveness.
Underlying digestive imbalances or diagnosed digestive issues conditions.
Unhealthy lifestyle choices can increase stress and lower enzyme production and function.
This is why taking a digestive enzyme with whole food meals can provide additional digestive support and increased nutrient absorption and bowel regularity.
How Digestive Enzymes Can Help Your Health
If the production or function of digestive enzymes isn't optimal, it could lead to digestive discomfort, including gas and bloating. If you experience discomfort after eating, consuming a digestive enzyme could support this issue. Let's take a look at how and why this is the case.
Improves Digestion and Absorption
Digestive enzymes can break down food to help with digestion and absorption, as you need first to be able to digest foods before you can optimally absorb the nutrients. This will allow your body to turn the food into usable nutrients to receive more vitamins and minerals required for energy and optimal functioning.
Supports Regular Bowel Movements
Digestive enzymes can also support bowel movements. Proper digestion means your body can break down the food you eat, absorb nutrients and eliminate the rest.
If your body isn't breaking down the food optimally and at an efficient rate, then that food may sit in your digestive system for an extended period. This could lead to slower transport time, the reuptake of toxins into the body, and bacteria to ferment, contributing to increased gas buildup. Taking digestive enzymes may help support slower transport time and increase bowel regularity.
How to Enhance Internal Enzyme Production and External Supportive Supplementation of Digestive Enzymes
Here are a few ways you can improve your internal production of digestive enzymes or look at supportive supplementation as needed:
Practice mindful eating: this starts with chewing your food properly as digestion begins in the mouth. Chew your food into a paste before swallowing to enable the digestive enzymes to work more effectively.
Consume foods that contain natural enzymes. For example, bromelain from pineapple, papain from papaya and zingibain from ginger.
Manage your stress: high-stress levels can inhibit the proper breakdown of food as your body needs to be in a relaxed 'rest-and-digest' state to support digestion.
Take time to eat your meal slowly to avoid overeating
Incorporate fermented foods as part of your meal, including sauerkraut, kimchi and kefir as they contain natural digestive enzymes.
Take a daily digestive enzyme with your whole food meals or a supportive supplement with enzymes aimed at specific food sensitivities like dairy and gluten that are often harder to digest and can lead to digestive discomfort
The function of digestive enzymes is vital for optimal health. Supplementing with enzymes can help your body absorb the nutrients it needs from your meals efficiently, enabling your body to function at its best and avoiding digestive upset in the process.