Too often misunderstood, digestive enzymes have such an important role in sustaining life that I thought I should clarify a couple of myths.
1) Food intolerances and Indigestion are usually the results of enzyme deficiency and…
2) Antacids do not improve digestion.
Find out the answers below
Digestive Enzymes make things go
When you think of an enzyme you might think of Pacman running around gobbling things up. In fact, an enzyme is a protein molecule that acts as a lubricant (or catalyst) helping speed up chemical reactions.
There are many different types of enzymes, which are highly specific to the substances they catalyze, and enzymes aid every metabolic function in the body. In fact, there are over 2,000 different enzymes at work in the human body, many of which come from food. (8)
Without enzymatic activity, life would be impossible because crucial reactions would be millions to billions of times slower without their lubricating catalytic effect.
Where do enzymes come from?
Many enzymes are produced by our body whereas other enzymes are provided by the food we eat. Only raw foods contain food enzymes e.g. fruit and vegetables. Modern-day factory processing methods such as pasteurizing, chemically altering, canning and preserving destroy the enzymatic breakdown of our food. (5)
Without enzymes, there is no life and where there is no life in food there are no enzymes present. Something worth remembering when choosing the types of food you eat. We will talk about this further soon.
What is a digestive enzyme?
- An enzyme is a substance that breaks the bonds between food molecules.
- Enzymes have a major involvement in some of the main processes performed by the digestive system.
Let’s step back and take a brief look at an overview of the entire digestive process. There are six main processes involved in digestion:
- First, we have ingestion (the eating of food).
- Next is propulsion, which is the process by which food is moved along the digestive tract.
- Mechanical digestion describes the physical breakdown of food into smaller particles. It involves the first obvious mechanism of chewing, followed by churning in the stomach and then moving through the segments of the small intestine. This physical (mechanical) breakdown of food would only do a fraction of the job without the aid of chemical digestion.
- Chemical digestion This is where enzymes step in. The chemicals used in chemical digestion are enzymes and acids made by the body. Once the food is broken down into molecules, the next part of the digestive process takes place.
- Absorption is when nutrients pass through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream and lymph, ready for transport to the cells and tissues of the body.
- Last but not least comes elimination, the removal of undigested food and waste from the digestive tract.
Get just one of these processes incorrect and the following steps will be hindered beginning another process – disease process leading to ill health. For example, if you eat dead processed food (e.g. bread and pasta) motility decreases and the propulsion part of the digestive system falters. You get some digestive discomfort and then acid reflux because your full digestive tract pushes upward against your full stomach.
Just about everybody has suffered from indigestion at some point. The popular response to regular indigestion is to use antacids.
Antacids prescribed by your doctor, say in the form of omeprasole or Losec, severely lower hydrochloric acid (HCl) production in the stomach. This is called pharmacologically-induced hypochlorhydria (3)
However HCl is required to activate the enzyme pepsin, so now you cannot digest your protein properly…among other things….resulting in a distended bloated abdomen, increased constipation, and reduced nutrient absorption.
Most indigestion and acid reflux is actually caused by insufficient levels of hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes. The prescribed drugs mentioned above exacerbate this.
For example glands in the mucous membrane lining of the stomach make and store an inactive protein called pepsinogen. Impulses from the vagus nerve and the hormonal secretions of gastrin and secretin stimulate the release of pepsinogen into the stomach, where it is mixed with hydrochloric acid and rapidly converted to the active enzyme pepsin.
The digestive power of pepsin is greatest at the acidity of normal gastric juice (pH 1.5–2.5). In the intestine, the gastric acids are neutralized (pH 7), and pepsin is no longer effective. (4) In other words, taking antacids with greatly interfere with healthy digestion.
What we really want to talk about today is the role of enzymes in chemical digestion.
Enzymes in Digestion
There are many enzymes involved in digestion. Some are made in your body and some aren’t. Let’s look at this in a little detail, just so you can see those enzymes you may need to get from your food.
Amylase in saliva begins the chemical breakdown of food (starches in particular) in conjunction with the mechanical action of teeth.
The two main enzymes in the stomach are pepsin and lipase. Pepsin is produced and secreted by the stomach and starts the digestion of proteins. Lipase, produced by the pancreas and secreted in the stomach, starts the digestion of fats and triglycerides (lipids).
Duodenum (upper part of the small intestine)
Four pancreatic enzymes are secreted into this important part of the digestive tract: Lipase (breaks down fats as above); amylase (breaks down starch); trypsin and chymotrypsin which both break down proteins.
Jejunum and Ileum
Further along the small intestine, is the major site for the digestion of carbohydrates. Here the enzymes maltase, lactase, and sucrase (carbohydrases) split the various sugar molecules of carbohydrates into simple sugars.
Peptidase continues the breakdown of proteins into amino acids.
Lactose intolerance results from a deficiency of the milk-digesting enzyme Lactase. Undigested lactose (from milk) then passes into the colon where fermentation produces hydrogen and short-chain fatty acids that can cause abdominal distention, pain and sometimes diarrhea. (2)
Milk is being used successfully for the supplementary feeding of children worldwide, and most lactose non-digesters can tolerate at least 240 ml of milk or the lactose equivalent in other products. (2)
It has been found that some yogurt and the introduction of enzymes can reduce lactose intolerance. (2)
Lactase, sucrose, and maltase are present in the upper part of the small intestine. Deficiency of these enzymes leads to the incomplete digestion of the sugars. This can result in symptoms of bloating, flatulence, and diarrhea.
The body manufactures trypsin and chymotrypsin, so you don’t always need these from your food. Deficiencies in proteolytic enzymes can result from disease or stress on the pancreas. Symptoms include abdominal discomfort, gas, indigestion, poor absorption of nutrients, and passing undigested food in the stool.
It has been shown that if you have a diet low in food enzymes or if you have had stomach bugs or irritations that have caused diarrhea then you could become deficient in enzymes. (1)
Diet, raw food and enzymes
Diets high in supermarket foods, or foods that have been processed in factories and no longer have living energy, have decreased enzyme content. The food processing industry alters food in such a way that it becomes less digestible and also reduces the bio-availability of nutrients. Over time your body can become depleted in its own ability to produce enough digestive enzymes to process this type of food. (5)
Food enzymes can be found in raw foods like fresh fruits and vegetables when ingested as part of the diet. The ability of plant enzymes to assist in digestion is destroyed when foods are cooked, pasteurized or heat-processed as the heat changes the natural structure of plant enzymes and ruins their catalytic ability.
There is some evidence that raw food is healthier than cooked food. Cooking food destroys nutrients and enzymes, alters the structure and, thus, digestibility of food, and creates by-products that may be harmful. For example, cooking vegetables decreases water-soluble and heat sensitive nutrients, such as carotenoids. (6)
The insoluble fiber in raw vegetables decreases as a result of cooking. This decreases fecal transit time and increases binding and excretion of carcinogens. In foods rich in reducing sugars (e.g., glucose and fructose) and amino acids, peptides, or proteins, heat initiates the Maillard reaction, which destroys many essential amino acids, causes proteins to cross-link with reducing sugars, makes the food harder to digest, and forms proinflammatory advanced glycation endproducts. (6)
Heating pure proteins, peptides, or amino acids also form compounds that are often mutagenic (capable of inducing mutation). Some observational studies suggest that raw food is healthier than cooked food, and a few anecdotal reports describe the alteration of chronic disease among patients on a raw vegan diet. (6)
Positive bacteria and Enzymes
Raw plant foods also contain micro-organisms and bacteria which play a role in digestive enzyme functions. For example, the human digestive tract harbors trillions of bacteria, many of which establish lifetime, symbiotic relationships with their hosts.
The food we eat nourishes our gut flora, and the bacteria feeds us with the products and byproducts of their own digestive activities. Consequently, the gut microbiome has evolved to encode a variety of digestive enzymes, for example, those that break down hard-to-digest polysaccharides in food plants, such as celery, broccoli, and other vegetables. (7)
Our digestive system is heavily dependent on enzymes and the over-consumption of processed food can be responsible for enzyme deficiency.
Papain and bromelain are the respective names for the protein-digesting enzymes found in fruits. These enzymes are included in the Herbal DETOX and BodiTune DETOX ‘n SLIM products to assist in the digestive process.
By improving digestion and absorption of nutrients during a colon cleansing program the healing power of the body is greatly enhanced. Along with the focus on more fruits and vegetables and particularly raw food, the benefits can be astounding.
Brett Elliott ®
(1) Examination of small bowel enzymes in chronic diarrhea. PUBMED https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12519224
(2) [Lactose tolerance and milk consumption: myths and realities]. PUBMED https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3155250
(3) Gastric Re-acidification with Betaine HCl in Healthy Volunteers with Rabeprazole-Induced Hypochlorhydria. PUBMED https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3946491/
(4) Pepsin Biochemistry. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/science/pepsin
(5) Advanced glycation End-products (AGEs): an emerging concern for processed food industries. PUBMED https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4648888/
(6) Factors affecting adherence to a raw vegan diet. PUBMED https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3635096/
(7) Gut bacteria are what we eat. The Scientist. https://www.the-scientist.com/the-nutshell/gut-bacteria-are-what-we-eat-43383
(8) Different Types of Enzymes. https://sciencing.com/different-types-enzymes-4968363.html