What are they?
Digestive enzymes are enzymes that our bodies produce naturally in order to properly breakdown and absorb the foods that we eat. They are imperative to our overall health and wellbeing, and a lack in these enzymes can lead to a variety of digestive issues. They are responsible for breaking food down into amino acids, fatty acids, simple sugars, cholesterol, and the nucleic acids that assist in the making of DNA. There are three classes of digestive enzymes, categorized by the role that they play in digestion. I have listed a few of the most common when discussing digestion.
This enzyme is needed to break down carbohydrates, sugar, and starches (potatoes, grains, fruit and veg.) It is found in saliva and pancreatic juice.
Found in the gastric juices of the stomach, pepsin works to break protein down into smaller molecules called polypeptides.
Trypsin / Chymotrypsin
These work together to break down the smaller protein molecules (polypeptides) even further.
This enzyme oversees the breakdown of fats and triglycerides. (dairy, nuts, oil, eggs, meat) Lipase is made by the pancreas and is secreted into the small intestine where it mixes with bile.
High fiber foods that can cause gas are broken down by cellulase. (asparagus, beans, cauliflower)
The primary role of lactase is to help digest lactose, the sugar found in dairy products. People who do not produce enough of this enzyme are known as “lactose intolerant”.
Who needs to supplement with Digestive Enzymes?
Most people produce enough of these important enzymes on their own, and do not need to supplement their diet. However, in the case of people with digestive diseases, liver disease, pancreatic issues, hypochlorhydria (acids themselves cannot break down food), or in the aging population, supplementation may be of great benefit. Other indications you may need some help in the digestion department can include acid reflux, cravings, morning fatigue, trouble concentrating, sleeping issues, thyroid issues, arthritis, depression, headaches/migraines, and severe PMS.
Foods containing Digestive Enzymes
Pineapple and Papaya contain bromelain. Bromelain aids in the digestion of protein and is a great anti-inflammatory.
Bananas and Mangoes contain amylase the enzyme that aid in the digestion of carbohydrates.
Raw Honey contains a great many enzymes, including amylase.
Avocado – Although high in fat itself, avocado contains lipase, the enzyme needed for the breakdown and absorption of fats.
Miso – Miso contains amylase, protease, lactase and lipase, making it one of the top foods for digestion.
Kefir – Drinking kefir will provide you system with lipase, protease, and lactase, along with a healthy dose of probiotic.
Kiwi, Sauerkraut, and Apple Cider Vinegar are other foods that provide these important enzymes.
Who SHOULDN’T Supplement?
If you are currently suffering with a health condition, always consult with your doctor before tying any supplement. (ie. gallbladder, ulcers, or liver disease) Enzyme supplementation is normally well tolerated by most people, but occasionally they can have some negative side effects. These can include, nausea, headache, diarrhea, dizziness, and vomiting, and should be discontinued if any of these occur.
Which Supplement is the best?
Try to find a brand that contains a variety of enzymes including those mentioned at the beginning of this article. As I mentioned previously, there are many more enzymes at work within the digestive tract, and the larger the variety in your supplement, the more beneficial it will be. Asking your doctor or a knowledgeable professional will help you make the best choice for your body.