July 12, 2018
Digestive Enzymes: The Ultimate Research Driven Guide + WHO Needs Them
Digestive enzymes are well-known to be important for our health and well-being. But it’s important to understand what they are and how they can help you before you can find out what the best digestive enzymes are for you. In this guide, we will take a detailed look at the role of enzymes in your digestion, what illnesses and conditions are affected by deficiencies in digestive enzymes, and most importantly, what you can do about it (e.g. add digestive plant enzymes to your diet).
Contents:What are Enzymes? What Are Digestive Enzymes? Why are they so Important? What are the Main Types of Digestive Enzymes? What Causes Digestive Enzymes to Stop Working/Functioning? How To Correct a Digestive Enzyme Deficiency? How Do I Know if I May Need to Take a Digestive Enzyme Supplement? Best Digestive Enzymes: Why Digestive Plant Enzymes Are King How Do I Know What Digestive Plant Enzyme Supplement is Best for Me? Digestive Plant Enzyme Supplementation Benefits Dosage, Safety + Digestive Plant Enzymes Side Effects
What Are Enzymes?So what is an enzyme? The functioning and health of your body depends on chemical reactions that happen within your cells. An enzyme is a biological molecule, usually a protein, that increases the rate of nearly all of these reactions, including digestion and metabolism. You can find enzymes in every organ and cell of your body, particularly the blood and gastrointestinal tract. They are basically “biological catalysts” – that is, they make things happen. Each enzyme has a specialised function, working only on a specific bodily reaction. For example, some enzymes break up large molecules so that your body can make better use of what it absorbs. Others help to bind two molecules together, creating a new molecule. So you can see why enzymes are so essential to your well-being.
What Are Digestive Enzymes? Why are they so Important?In order to get the maximum benefit from the food you eat, eating as healthily as possible is, of course, very important. But it’s not enough. Your body needs to be able to extract nutrients in the most effective way from that food so that it can function properly. Without enough digestive enzymes, this can be a challenge. This means that even if you're eating plenty of fruit, leafy greens and other healing foods like bone broth or collagen, your health could be poor. Digestive enzymes are a type of enzyme that are found outside your cells. They help your body to break down the proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids (fats) in your food into forms that your body can use, allowing you to digest it. Proteins are converted into amino acids so that your body can build muscle, while lipids change into fatty acids, and cholesterol and carbohydrates break down into simple sugars. Vitamins and minerals are also extracted from your food through the function of digestive enzymes. Digestive enzymes are produced and secreted by your gastrointestinal system, mainly in the pancreas and small intestine. After the digestion process, your digestive enzymes continue to work by increasing your body’s absorption of nutrients from the food you’ve eaten. They allow these nutrients to be transported and used by each cell in your body. Unfortunately, there are several health conditions that cause problems with the production and functioning of digestive enzymes. Our modern lifestyles also contribute to the problem, and even a relatively healthy diet does not guarantee that you’ll have enough digestive enzymes. Because of this, digestive enzyme supplementation can be absolutely crucial in health and well-being.
What are the Main Types of Digestive Enzymes?There are a few different types of digestive enzymes, each with a different function and origin.While it is believed there are three main categories of digestive enzyme - we believe that there is closer to 5 which we discuss below:
- Proteases, which you need to digest protein
- Lipases, which digest fat, and
- Amylases, needed to digest carbohydrates.
- Lactase, required to digest all dairy.
- Cellulase, which digests fibre
ProteasesLet’s have a look first at proteases. Proteases are digestive enzymes which have a huge influence on the “behaviour” of many proteins in your body, including how proteins interact with each other. Proteases influence the processing of cellular information as well as signals from your molecules. Body functions such as wound repair, immunity, blood coagulation, and aspects of reproduction are among those affected by the multiple actions of proteases. Proteases come in the form of pepsin, trypsin, and chymotrypsin. Your digestive system produces these digestive enzymes naturally, but you can also become deficient in them due to various health factors. Proteolytic enzymes help to break down dietary proteins like meat, eggs, and fish into smaller fragments called peptides, and eventually into amino acids, which are the components so essential to your body’s health.
AmylasesAmylases are a group of enzymes that break down the glucosidic bonds found in starch. Basically, they convert carbohydrates into sugars that your body can use. Amalyses are found most frequently in saliva and pancreatic fluid. In your digestive system, as well as the digestive system of many other mammals, ptyalin, a digestive enzyme called an alpha-amylase, is produced by the salivary glands. When you eat, ptyalin mixes with the food in your mouth and acts upon the starches to begin breaking them down. The action of the ptyalin continues for up to several hours after that, in your stomach. After that, the high acidity of stomach secretions takes over to complete the process. Meanwhile, your pancreas produces pancreatic amylase and secretes it into the small intestine to help with the further digest these carbohydrates and starches.
LipasesLipase is a digestive enzyme, released by the pancreas, that helps your body to digest fats. Because most of the fat in your food takes the form of triglycerides, which cannot be absorbed from your intestine, lipase is necessary to utilise the fats in your diet. But lipase doesn’t work alone: bile, which is made by your liver and stored in your gallbladder, starts the breaking down process by forming small globules of triglycerides, which lipase then breaks down into fatty acids. When your bloodstream absorbs these fatty acids, they again form triglycerides, which are delivered to organs such as your liver, where energy is stored.
LactaseLactase is another important digestive enzyme. Lactase mainly works to break down lactose, a type of sugar found in milk and other dairy products which is too large a compound to be absorbed naturally by your body. With the help of lactase, lactose is broken down into more easily absorbed smaller particles called glucose and galactose. Specialised cells lining the lumen of the small intestine produce lactase and are responsible for absorbing nutrients within your digestive tract. If you don’t have sufficient lactase, lactose simply stays in your digestive tract as your body cannot use it - and if this occurs you are likely to start suffering from symptoms like bloating, excess gas and diarrhoea.
CellulaseNo animal is able to digest plant fibre, which is made of tough cellulose. This is why we need cellulase. Cellulases are enzymes that break down the cellulose, a complex carbohydrate found in plant foods, into a simple sugar beta-glucose. Cellulase reduces the cellulose plant fibres into beta-glucose and short-chain polysaccharides that our body can use. Cellulase consists of a few different enzymes, including exoglucanases, endoglucanases, and beta-glucosidase which work together. Once cellulase has broken down the cellulose, the body uses the byproducts or gets rid of them. So there you have it, the main classes of digestive enzymes which are vital to digestion. Finding these 5 classes of enzymes in a digestive enzyme supplement is a sign of good quality (most of the time). We have also provided you with a breakdown of all of the digestive enzymes and where you are likely to find them during the digestive process. Please note that many of these enzymes listed below are subcategories of the classes of enzyme outlined above. Here they are:
Distribution of Digestive EnzymesThe digestive enzymes preset in the mouth are:
- Ptyalin - Carbohydrates converted into single molecule sugars
- Amylase - Carbohydrates converted into single molecule sugars
- Bromelaine - Works by Softening Meat
- Pepsin - Proteins converted into peptides
- Gelatinise - Gelatin converted into usable collagen
- Gastic Lipase - triglycerides broken down to fatty acids
- Gastic Amylase - Carbohydrates converted into sugars
- Trypsin: Peptides converted into amino acids
- Chymotrypsin - Proteins converted to aromatic amino acids
- Nuclease - Nucleic acid converted to nucleotides
- Elastase - Degradation of Elastin
- Pancreatic amylase - Carbohydrates converted into simple sugars
- Phospholipase - Phospholipids converted into fatty acids
- Steapsin - Triglycerides converted to glycerol.
- Maltase - Maltose converted to glucose
- Lactase - Lactose converted to galactose and glucose
- Sucrase - Sucrose converted to monosaccharides
- Isomaltase - Maltose is converted into isomaltose
What Causes Digestive Enzymes to Stop Working/Functioning?As you have seen, many functions of the body depend on the right quantity of digestive enzymes and on them working correctly. But unfortunately, sometimes the body fails to make enough digestive enzymes. This can cause a range of problems and uncomfortable symptoms because it slows down the essential digestion process. We'll now take a look at some of the factors that can cause poor enzyme functioning.
Poor Pancrease FunctionVarious health conditions can lead to low levels of digestive enzymes. Because the digestive enzymes are so intimately involved with the functioning of the pancreas, pancreatic problems such as cystic fibrosis, chronic pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), and pancreatic cancer can all cause deficiencies of digestive enzymes.
Brush-Border DysfunctionBrush-border dysfunction is often responsible for problems with digestive enzymes. This results from problems with the structure formed by “the folding of the exterior surfaces of gut epithelial cells into dense microvilli”. One form of brush-border dysfunction is lactase deficiency, which means difficulty with digesting lactose, the sugar in milk and milk-based products. As a result of lactase deficiency, you could experience more fluid entering your colon and bacteria producing more gas in your colon. The result: bloating, flatulence, and diarrhea. Other variants of Brush border diseases include Sucrase-isomaltase deficiency and Glucose or galactose malabsorption. These affect the absorption of glucose and galactose. The most severe form of Brush border dysfunction is Celiac disease, where the brush border is flattened or destroyed. All of these diseases cause problems with digestive enzymes.
Poor Liver FunctionAnyone with liver disease should be suspected of also having enzyme insufficiency. A common condition that can cause liver disease is called Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. This is a genetic disorder that affects roughly one in 1,500 people worldwide, usually adults aged 20-50. Alpha-1-antitrypsin (AAT) controls the enzymes in your body and being deficient in it can cause breathing problems. Naturally, it will also affect your digestion and your overall health picture.
Digestive DisordersLow-grade inflammation in the digestive tract is another important culprit when it comes to deficiencies in digestive enzymes. This could include, for example, inflammation caused by the all too common food allergies, intestinal permeability, SIBO, SIFO and parasitic infection. Crohn’s Disease, one of two major chronic inflammatory bowel diseases (or IBD), can also cause problems with assimilating nutrients with digestive enzymes. This is because severe inflammation of the intestinal tract inhibits effective digestion and nutrient absorption. Symptoms of Crohn’s include diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach pain, and considerable weight loss.
The Ageing ProcessSometimes, specific illnesses or ailments do not need to be present for digestive enzyme levels to become problematically low. The process of ageing has been associated with decreased digestive function because digestive enzymes production starts to decline as people get older. As we age we typically see a reduction in gastric, pancreatic and other secretions which take place in our guts. For example, in one study it was found that age was correlated with a reduction in pancreatic enzymes. Whats more, this study showed that an ageing pancreas may be unable to adapt to poor dietary choices compared to a young pancreas.
Low Stomach AcidIf you have low stomach acid, you will be even less able to cope with low digestive enzyme levels. This is because your food doesn't get a good second go at being broken down properly in the stomach. Having low stomach acid can signal that you don't have enough digestive enzymes, because the whole digestive system goes out of balance. However, optimistically it has been shown that digestive enzyme supplementation can improve the levels of acid found in the stomach
StressStress is perhaps the most common reason for digestive enzyme problems. Chronic stress is frequently linked to functional digestive disorders that affect 35% to 70% of people at some point in life, mostly women. These are digestive disorders without an obvious physical cause. The nervous system has two chief modes: sympathetic -“fight or flight” - and parasympathetic -“rest and digest.” When you’re in “fight or flight” mode, digestion is given a very low priority, which means your digestive enzyme output is dialled down. Chronic stress leads to constant “fight or flight” mode, which in turns results in impaired digestive enzyme output. Studies show that stress can cause dysfunction of the intestinal barrier and that there is a relationship between stress and the amounts of certain digestive enzymes.
Dietary ChoicesWhen it comes to digestive enzyme deficiency, it’s always well worth looking at dietary causes. Diets high in sugar, gluten, and dairy – i.e. the typical Western diet – put strain on the gut and are prime for enzyme deficiency. In processed foods, many of the enzymes that make our food digestible are already destroyed. Research shows that dietary factors that are common in the Western world, including high sugar and processed food levels, are associated with problems in the levels of intestinal bacteria. The health of the entire digestive system depends on a healthy balance of bacteria and this has a knock-on effect on digestive enzyme levels. Even foods which many believe to be healthy in fact are not. In one study, it has been found that phytates, which are commonly found in legumes inhbit the functioning of pepsin and amylase which are responsible for the breakdown of starches and proteins. In other study, legumes were found to inhibit protease digestive enzymes, meaning that proteins are unable to be properly broken down and utilised in the body. Ultimately, with poor diet, we see an increase in digestive disorders such as Leaky Gut Syndrome, which can further put the digestive enzyme balance of the body out of balance. Gluten is well-known as a trigger for Irritable Bowel Syndrome and food sensitivities, both of which contribute to a situation where deficient digestive enzymes can result. Unfortunately, gluten is prevalent in our diet, despite the fact that it’s a challenge to digest for many people. Another culprit in causing digestive enzyme deficiencies is fluoride in the form of fluoridated water. Research suggests that the pancreatic enzymes lipase and protease may decrease as the result of fluoride in water.
How to Correct A Digestive Enzyme Deficiency?The good news is that correcting a digestive enzyme deficiency is within your reach. There are several tools you can use to improve the situation and start recovering your health and well-being. Let's have a closer look at them.
Remove Digestive Enzyme Inhibitors:
DietMaking a few key changes such as cutting out refined sugar, dairy, gluten, processed food and fluoride can make a world of difference to your health. As we’ve seen above, these kinds of foods can all trigger problems with the functioning of the gut and cause digestive enzyme imbalance. You can also add foods high in digestive enzymes, such as pumpkin seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, hemp seeds, pecans and walnuts. However, these foods also contain protease inhibitors, which can prevent enzyme function, so it’s important that you soak them before eating. Also ensure that you eat them raw and unsalted. Taking charge of your diet can be very empowering, and with the right advice from a good health professional, it can bring about lasting change. However, diet alone is not enough.
StressIf you’re habitually eating your lunch while at your desk or rushing around, your body simply can’t digest your food properly. Your nervous system needs to be in parasympathetic mode for optimum digestion – not only while you eat, but for a while afterwards. So please, get into the habit of mindful eating where you take time to enjoy the food you are eating. A good trick for this is to chew your food 20 times before swallowing. Being in a state of busy-ness and stress keeps your body stuck in sympathetic mode. The results for your digestive functioning? Not good. When your body is on high alert and occupied with dealing with stress, it cannot digest properly. This is mostly because blood circulation is diverted away from the gut in times of stress. There is good reason for the tradition in Europe of having long afternoon meals followed by a siesta. Allowing yourself time to relax and enjoy hobbies helps you to address this situation. It’s also important to look at your overall work/life balance and address areas where stress could be reduced.
Substitute with Digestive Enzyme Activators:
Implement Gut Healing FoodsBone broth is is made from using parts of one type of meat, e.g. chicken, beef bones, fish, or turkey. You add sea salt or apple cider vinegar, both nutrient-dense foods, to the meat to help create this nutritious broth. The benefits? A large number of trace minerals, amino acids, and electrolytes. It is known to help Leaky Gut Syndrome, which has an impact on digestive enzyme balance. If you want to find out the 51 benefits of bone broth you can do so HERE. Other gut healing foods which you could add include collagen peptides which contains all sorts of gut healing amino acids. Prebiotics and Probiotics are also beneficial– these are often considered “partners in digestion” in collaboration with digestive enzymes and help to lay the foundation for digestive health which helps promote a healthy gut and therefore a broad spectrum of functioning digestion enzymes. Trawling through what probiotic will be best suited to you is very confusion, so we have developed a helpful guide to to help you select what probiotic is best for you. You can find that HERE.
Eat Food Containing Natural Digestive EnzymesThere are also plenty of foods which naturally contain digestive enzymes. Including natural digestive enzymes in your diet will go a long way towards helping your digestive health because of their numerous benefits.
- Bananas – Bananas contain the digestive enzymes amylase and maltase, which as we’ve seen above, helps you to digest maltose. This is a quick, convenient way of upping your digestive enzymes on the go.
- 100% Pure Soy Sauce - Much more than just a condiment, soy sauce offers natural digestive enzymes to help your body break down proteins and carbohydrates. It’s made from a process of fermenting soybeans with water, salt, yeast, and wheat. To obtain maximum benefit, make sure to avoid artificially coloured products when selecting a soy sauce.
- Pineapples contain cysteine proteinases, enzymes which assist the body to break down protein and digest it with ease.
- Avocados - You might not be aware that avocados, as well as being delicious and containing healthy fats, can also help you with digestion. Avocados contain natural digestive enzymes in the form of lipases, which, as we’ve seen, have the function of helping to help break down fat in your digestive tract.
- Bee Pollen - Bee pollen has over 5,000 different natural digestive enzymes including digestive enzymes to promote gut health and overall well-being. Amylase, diastase, phosphatase, pectase, transferase, and catalase are just some of the enzymes they contain.
- Papayas - The exotic fruit papaya contains proteolytic enzymes as well as papain. Eating papayas can help with the digestion of meats and other proteins that are harder to digest.
- Fermented vegetables (e.g.sauerkraut) - Fermented vegetables are an increasingly popular way to up your digestive enzyme levels. Raw sauerkraut, made with shredded cabbage fermented in its own juices, has not gone through the pasteurisation process, so it retains a large number of digestive enzymes. It might be a bit of an acquired taste, but it’s packed with natural digestive enzymes.
How Do I Know if I May Need to Take a Digestive Enzyme Supplement?
TestingPerhaps the best way to find out whether you need a digestive enzyme supplement is by stool testing. This allows you to measure how effectively you’re digesting and how well your pancreas is producing digestive enzymes. However, the problem with this method is that many traditional medical doctors are unlikely to run these tests, and they may not be covered by insurance. If you’d like to run one of these tests, it’s a good idea to seek out a qualified alternative provider whom you trust. Other tests which may indicate a digestive enzyme deficiency include an Iron deficiency or Vitamin B12 deficiency. These deficiencies may suggest that the digestive process is failing to cleave these nutrients from your food. A Vitamin D deficiency may indicate another malabsorption issue. In fact, any vitamin or mineral may be an indicator of poor digestive enzyme functioning.
Diagnosed with Specific IllnessesBeing diagnosed with one of the following may mean you should take digestive enzymes by default because they cause problems with the gut:
- Liver disease
- Crohn’s disease
- Celiac disease
- Cystic fibrosis
- Pancreatic cancer
- Acute or chronic pancreatitis
- Leaky gut syndrome.
Appraisal of Your Own SymptomsDiagnosed illnesses and testing aside, there are many signs and symptoms of enzymatic insufficiency which you need to look for. Although some could be due to other conditions, several relate primarily to the failure of pancreatic enzymes to be released. They include the following:
- If your stool is pale and floats in the toilet bowl, this can indicate problems with your digestive enzymes. Given fat floats, this could mean that your pancreatic enzymes not functioning correctly.
- If you notice undigested food in your stool, it's also likely that you have a problem with lack of digestive enzymes.
- If you frequently suffer from diarrhoea and stomach bloating, or flatulence and indigestion, these can be signs of deficiency in digestive enzymes.
- Feeling as if you have food sitting in your stomach, even long after eating or with an empty stomach
- Feeling full after eating only a few bites of food
- Craving particular foods on a regular basis - often those that are less healthy for you, such as refined carbohydrates
- Thyroid issues
- Skin looking lacklustre
- Gaining weight
- Changes in your hair quality, e.g. dulling, thinning, or falling out
- Nails that are weak and break easily or look cracked
- Struggling to get up when you wake in the morning
- Sleep problems, e.g. insomnia
- Arthritis or pain in the joints
- Mental health issues, e.g. depression, mood swings
- Lacking the energy to exercise
- Headaches or migraines
- Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder
- Rashes or hives
- Hot flushes
- Pre-Menstrual Syndrome
- Occasionally, fertility problems
Best Digestive Enzymes: Why Digestive Plant Enzymes Are KingIf your body is, for some reason, unable to make enough digestive enzymes, and pineapples and sauerkraut just aren’t doing it for you, there is good news. You can access digestive enzymes in the form of supplements. Digestive enzyme supplements are available in a variety of types, sources, and origins, as well as dosages. Digestive enzymes can be helpful in managing digestive disorders such as lactose intolerance and cystic fibrosis. The benefits of digestive enzymes are numerous, but it’s important to choose the right supplement. Let's talk about the different types of digestive enzymes available.
Fruit sourced digestive enzymesAre isolated from papaya or pineapple. They typically are not a comprehensive blend and may only contain a couple of enzymes like papain. They are a-lot weaker than the other enzymes such as digestive plant enzymes. In this regard, you would be better of getting your fruit sourced enzymes from actual fruit rather than a pill.
Animal sourced digestive enzymesObviously, these digestive enzyme supplements can’t be used by vegetarians or vegans. There are also a lot of other problems with these digestive enzymes. For example, there are issues with stability in that a low pH or acidic environment (such as human stomachs) can cause these enzymes to be unstable. Animal-sourced digestive enzymes only work well within a narrow alkaline pH range. In other words, you lose much of the enzyme before it can do you any good. You can avoid this downside by trying an enzyme in the form of an enteric-coated tablet, which prevents dissolution in acid and lets the enzyme dissolve in the non-acidic intestine. However, the exposure of animals to antibiotics and steroids is still an off-putting factor. If you are really serious about addressing your nutrient absorption and digestive health, digestive plant enzymes are a much stronger form of digestive enzyme supplement.
Plant sourced Digestive Enzymes (aka digestive plant enzymes)Digestive plant enzymes are the most stable of all the enzymes and therefore have numerous benefits. Unlike animal sourced digestive enzymes, digestive plant enzymes tend to make it intact through the digestion process. Plant enzymes operate optimally in a pH range from 3.1 to 8.9 which is very similar to the state of the pH levels in the human digestive system.This means that your body can make the most use of what they contain, giving you a much better chance of recovering your health. Using digestive plant enzymes avoids the concerns with animal welfare that taint the use of animal-based digestive enzymes. The broad spectrum action of digestive plant enzymes also gets going earlier in the digestion process. The growing field of study into plant-based and microbe-derived enzymes is showing a lot of promise for the use of these.
How Do I Know What Digestive Plant Enzyme Supplement is Best for Me?
Choose Premium Over CostIt's tempting to go for the cheaper options when looking for digestive plant enzymes - especially if you've already spent a lot on your health. But it just isn't worth it. You won't get significant results with your health and in the end, you will have wasted your money. Rather than buying digestive plant enzymes at an ordinary shop, do your research and shop around online to find the best quality deals for the best prices, That way, you'll get maximum benefit.
Read the Labels CloselyAs you've seen, your digestive health requires a few different digestive enzymes to be able to break down food properly. So you're probably going to benefit most from a product which contains a variety of enzymes. Take a close look at the labels and ensure that you see a number of digestive planet enzymes on the list. Top ones which have talked about above include are amylase, protease, lipase, cellulase and lactase. This product contains all 5.
Avoid Additives at All CostsAvoid gluten, sugar, salt, wheat, soy, egg, shellfish, and preservatives. To be sure of this, the label on the digestive plant enzyme you choose should explicitly say that none of these substances are present. The issue with most digestive enzymes is that they may have all the right enzymes but in the end the company takes shortcuts with what they inclose the enzymes in. This is why we created digestive plant enzymes free from all pills. It is simply a powder you add to your water or even foods. You can check that out HERE if you please.
Digestive Plant Enzyme Supplementation BenefitsNow that you have an idea of what to look for when choosing a digestive enzyme supplement, let’s look at the benefits of supplementation. The benefits of digestive plant enzyme supplementation include:
- Helping your body to break down the different components of your food so you can access the nutritional benefits of your diet
- Getting your gut balance back again so that you can heal problems such as Leaky Gut Syndrome
- Relief from Irritable Bowel Syndrome and acid reflux
- Help with the symptoms of Pancreatic Insufficiency, where the pancreas makes too few digestive enzymes or where those that are made are easily destroyed. Supplementing with digestive plant enzymes improves the processing of food so that this condition is alleviated.
- Digestive plant enzymes are much more effective than animal-based and fruit-based digestive enzymes (they are also vegan friendly).
- Assisting you to digest more effectively while you wait for dietary changes to take effect
- Digestive plant enzymes survive the digestion process so they can be utilised by your body more effectively. They also work earlier in the process.
- Digestive plant enzyme supplements that have a high protease content can help with food allergies. This is because they help to break down the proteins more effectively, reducing allergic reactions to certain foods.
- Helping to rectify imbalances caused by the fact that most of the food we consume tends to not be in the form of raw fruit and veg from nutrient-rich soils
- Supporting your health when you suffer from a chronic disease that makes digestive nutrient absorption difficult.