Digestive Enzymes

There are thousands of enzymes in our bodies, categorized into metabolic, digestive and food enzymes.

While all are important, we’ll focus on the digestive enzymes and their impact on gut health.

Digestive enzymes are a critical component of your digestive system and your overall health. They’re responsible for breaking down food, making digestion easier, and absorbing vitamins and nutrients into the body. While many enzymes occur naturally and can be found in many foods, a deficiency in digestive enzymes can cause physical discomfort and pain, while also preventing the body from getting the nutrients that it needs leading to malnutrition. In this blog post, we’re breaking down the basics of digestive enzymes.

Digestive enzymes are important from the start of digestion, playing an important role even as food begins to enter your mouth.

Your salivary glands begin working to break down food, before the enzymes in your stomach, small intestine, gallbladder and pancreas take over. Each stop along the digestive tract further breaks down your food before it gets to the small intestine, where gallbladder and pancreatic enzymes work to absorb nutrients. If an enzyme deficiency exists, Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency can occur.

Types of Enzymes
There are 3 main types of enzymes:

  1. Amylase – which breaks down carbohydrates into sugar molecules
  2. Lipase – which works with bile to break down fats
  3. Protease – which breaks down proteins into amino acids. Protease also has a dual responsibility in keeping too much bacteria and yeast out of the intestine.

Enzymes can also be prescribed, or added to your diet through supplements or can be found naturally in many foods. If you experience digestive discomfort through constipation, diarrhea, GERD or other conditions, consider incorporating more of these foods into your diet that are high in enzyme content, amino acids or are fermented: avocado, banana, ginger, honey, kiwi, mango, papaya, pineapple and sauerkraut.

As mentioned above, Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency can occur when digestive enzymes are lacking.

Patients can also experience chronic pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer, cystic fibrosis, diabetes or other pancreatic ailments without the proper amount of digestive enzymes. If the enzyme levels are not severe enough to cause a more serious ailment, you may also experience general challenges in digesting certain foods. Lactose intolerance, is a great example where individuals who cannot produce lactose struggle with dairy products.

Side effects of enzyme deficiencies can be changes in stools, weight loss, bloating, gas, nausea, cramping and diarrhea, and should be carefully evaluated by a licensed gastroenterologist who can determine if enzyme replacement is a good treatment option for you. Schedule your appointment in-person or through our virtual visits at one of our northeast Ohio locations today!

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