When we understand the important role of digestive enzymes in the body, we know why some experts have changed “You are what you eat” to “You are what you absorb”! When the body cannot properly use the food its given, it doesn’t matter how good the diet is — it still won’t be able to draw all the nutrients from it. What’s more, symptoms of impaired digestion — such as gas, bloating, upset stomach and even allergic responses — can make eating unpleasant and uncomfortable.
The digestive process relies on enzymes. We have three main types of digestive enzymes to help break down foods: amylase to break down carbohydrates; protease to break down proteins; and lipase to break down fats. These enzymes are released naturally along the digestive tract, and in the saliva, stomach and pancreas.
Our limited supply
When enough of the body’s enzymes are available for the food we eat, things go fine. However, we each have a limited resource of enzymes, which is determined by our genes. Therefore, some of us have more available than others. Second, as we age, our ability to produce digestive enzymes decreases. In fact, experts believe the body’s enzyme production begins to decline in our late 20s. As a result, many of us are enzyme-deficient.
While foods also supply enzymes, heating foods above 118°F — far below most cooking temperatures— destroys them. Only a raw foods diet can provide adequate enzymes necessary to supplement the body’s own. As the North American diet is typically enzyme-deficient, the body’s own resources are constantly taxed and eventually run low, leading to digestive upset, low energy and chronic nutrient deficiencies.
To ensure adequate enzymes for optimal digestion and absorption, many people supplement with commercial digestive enzymes. Enzymes from papaya (papain) and pineapple (bromelain) are two very popular choices. Both of these help to digest proteins. Pancreatic enzymes, extracted from animal sources, supply enzymes to help digest proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Pancreatic enzymes are also known to aid weight loss by suppressing appetite.
Many plant enzyme combinations are available for those who prefer a non-animal source. Look for products containing a full spectrum of protease, amylase and lipase enzymes to offer the greatest digestive support. Taken with meals, enzyme supplements can dramatically improve symptoms of indigestion and ensure that our bodies are getting the optimal benefit from the nutrients in our food and other supplements.
Sources: Prescription for Nutritional Healing by J & P Balch, Avery:1997; Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements by M Murray, ND, Prima:1996