Dying to feel like the old you again—the you that doesn’t have to deal with digestive issues that interfere with your quality of life?
When it comes to gut health, you’re probably aware of the importance of fibre, but have you heard of digestive enzymes? They are biological molecules that play an essential role in digestion and metabolism. They can be found throughout the entire body, in each cell and organ. Each enzyme has a specific purpose in the body, and they work to make specific reactions happen.
Their main function is to help to break down food into smaller particles during digestion. The body uses them to help process fats (lipids), carbohydrates, protein and cholesterol, and to help extract micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) from your food.
Enzymes can be found in your saliva, meaning the breakdown process starts while you’re chewing. From there, you can also find them in your stomach and gut lining.
If you have been dealing with digestive issues and increasing your fibre intake hasn’t done the trick, maybe your problems could stem from being deficient in digestive enzymes.
This deficiency can lead to various symptoms such as stomach pain or cramps, oily bowel movements, gas and bloating, diarrhoea, and unexplained weight loss (1).
Increasing your enzyme intake can help you find these symptoms, even if they stem from IBS (2). Research has shown that supplementing your diet with a combination of enzymes, including amylase, protease, lipase, cellulase, and lactase can improve abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and bowel-movement urgency (3, 4).
The good news is that you can easily increase your available enzymes by eating foods that have a high concentration of them and by taking enzyme-containing supplements. In this article, we’ll explore some of the most valuable enzymes that can improve your gut health.
Amylase is produced in your pancreas and salivary glands. It helps to break down and transform carbohydrates into sugars to be used by the body for energy. The amylase in your saliva (known as alpha-amylase) starts to break down carbohydrates in your mouth. After that, your stomach acid continues the job of breaking down carbs. Your pancreas then produces pancreatic amylase and secretes it into the small intestine, where carbohydrates are broken down even further (5, 6, 7, 8).
If you consume a diet rich in carbohydrates but struggle with digestive issues, increasing amylase can help. If you thought your body rejected carbohydrates entirely, it could just be a lack of the needed enzymes.
Are you on a gluten-free diet or do you want to go gluten-free in the near future? Even if you avoid all obvious sources of gluten like bread, cookies, pasta, and pizza, there are technically gluten-free foods that have been contaminated with gluten. So, if you go to a restaurant or to a dinner party, there's a chance you can accidentally ingest gluten.
Luckily, there are enzyme supplements like dipeptidyl peptidase IV (DDP IV) you can take before your meal that can help you digest the gluten more easily and reduce any side effects.
This is also a good strategy for those who are sensitive to gluten but still want to occasionally eat foods that have it like at a birthday party with cake or a dinner with friends. You can be strategic and take DDP IV.
Supplementing with DDP IV could be the key to you never having to worry about ingesting gluten. If your lifestyle has made it harder for you to effectively avoid gluten entirely, perhaps changing your strategy to arming yourself with the right enzymes could be the answer to your problems.
But, DDP IV should not be used to try and replace a gluten-free diet or treat celiac disease.
Protease is an enzyme that helps your body break down proteins into peptides and then into amino acids. These enzymes come in different forms like pepsin, chymotrypsin and trypsin. These digestive enzymes actually have a big influence on how proteins in the body behave, and they have an influence on the cellular information processing and signals sent from molecules. Proteases affect other bodily functions like immune system regulation, coagulation of blood, reproduction, and wound repair. (11, 12)
It’s important to consume enough protein for health, tissue formation, building muscle and preventing muscle loss, consuming a lot of protein can mean that your body has to work harder to digest it. Protein sources like whey protein powder, protein bars and protein from legumes can cause digestive problems when consumed, and increasing protease before consuming it can help to make it easier for your body to digest these proteins.
Papain is a gut-friendly enzyme that can be found in papayas. It's a proteolytic enzyme, which means it breaks down proteins into amino acids and peptides. Research suggests that papain can help to reduce inflammation, even in your gut (13).
To increase your intake, you can include papaya in your diet a few times a week and look for supplements that contain papain.
Clinical observations have shown that after consuming papaya preparations, patients saw relief in problems like heartburn, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) symptoms, and constipation (14). One of the reasons for its digestive benefits could be that it alters gastric motility (the process through which food moves through the digestive system via muscular contractions) (15).
Lipase is an enzyme made in the pancreas that helps the body digest fats (with the help of bile). It helps to turn fats into fatty acids to be used by the body for various functions such as energy production, hormone production, cell formation, organ protection, and body heat regulation. (16, 17, 18)
People who consume high amounts of fat, especially from unhealthy fat sources like vegetable and seed oils (such as sunflower, canola, and soybean oil), could experience more problems with digestion. Increasing lipase can make it much easier for your body to digest all fats and make life a little easier after consuming unhealthy fats.
Bromelain is one of the most well-known digestive enzymes and can be found in pineapples and various supplements. It's also a proteolytic enzyme, so it helps to break down proteins. Have you ever tried to make jelly while using fresh pineapple? It won’t set because the bromelain in the pineapple breaks down the protein in the gelatine.
Bromelain has shown anti-inflammatory effects. It's typically easily absorbed by the body and doesn't result in any major side effects. It has been shown to have many therapeutic benefits, such as improving digestion, treating bronchitis and sinusitis, and enhancing the absorption of drugs like antibiotics (19, 20).
Tilactase is a beta-D-galactosidase taken in tablet or capsule form that can help the body break down lactose and can help those with lactose intolerance enjoy some dairy now and then. It’s found in many digestive supplements. For many, it could be a better option than trying to exclude dairy from their diets completely. (21, 22)
Even if you avoid all obvious sources of dairy like milk, yoghurt, cheese, cream, ice cream and butter, dairy is found in many food products and in restaurant dishes. There could be dairy hidden in the sauce served with your meal, in smoothies, in bread, frozen foods and even chewing gum.
Taking tilactase orally can significantly reduce symptoms of hypolactasia (a lactase activity deficiency in the intestines) (23).
Did you know that humans and other animals cannot digest plant fibre? Plant fibre is made of cellulose, which we need the enzyme cellulase to digest. Cellulase turns the cellulose plant fibres into short-chain polysaccharides and beta-glucose through a process called cellulolysis, which the body can then use. (24, 25, 26)
While it is often recommended to consume a lot of fibre to aid digestion, too much fibre can also lead to problems like constipation, gas and bloating, especially if you don’t have enough cellulase to help your body break it down.
If nothing you’ve tried has helped ease your bloating or other digestive issues, check out our social media accounts for more information on how to improve gut health and get the old you back, and keep an eye out for a special announcement that will help you heal your gut and regain your quality of life.