Understanding Digestive Enzymes in Food

Assorted Fruits with Smoothies
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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)

Digestive enzymes pool in the body and can become deficient. There is growing evidence that intestinal enzymes have a role in the pathogenesis of gastrointestinal inflammatory, autoimmune and neoplastic diseases; however, our current understanding of the impact of proteases on gastrointestinal pathophysiology is far from complete. (11)

Gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal distension, flatulence, bloating and a feeling of fullness are common complaints of often unknown causes. There is a long history of trials reporting the successful use of products containing a variety of combinations of digestive enzymes including a number of randomized placebo-controlled trials. (10)

Without enzymatic activity, life would be impossible because crucial reactions would be millions to billions of times slower without their lubricating catalytic effect.

fruit enzymes

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:

  1. First, we have ingestion (the eating of food).
  2. Next is propulsion, which is the process by which food is moved along the digestive tract.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

digestive enzymes


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 omeprazole 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.

The Mouth
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).

Fat enzyme

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.

Sugar enzyme

Peptidase continues the breakdown of proteins into amino acids.

Protein enzyme


Lactose intolerance

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)

Enzyme Deficiency

Sugar digesters
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.

Protein digesters
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 the 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 pro-inflammatory 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)

Papaya and pineapple are two of the richest plant sources of food enzymes, as attested by their traditional use as natural “tenderizers” for meat. 

Supplementing with Enzymes

The domination of processed food in the modern human diet results in a lack of active ingested enzymes, and as a consequence a rapid depletion of their metabolic reserves. (9)

Since enzymes found in food are an important part of maintaining a healthy diet, it has become a common practice to supplement one’s diet with them. Furthermore, proteases such as bromelain and papain are used as a valid therapeutic agent in both modern and natural medicine. The food rich in active enzymes, especially proteases, is applied as an important therapeutic and anti-aging diet component. (9)

It is generally known that enzymes present in fruits such as pineapple, papaya, kiwifruit, and figs (bromelain, papain, actinidin, and ficin, respectively) are able to digest animal proteins, e.g., gelatin or other hard to digest (“slow”) proteins such as casein. (9)

There is clear evidence that the green kiwifruit, and the enzyme actinidin itself, can enhance upper-tract digestion (gastric digestion in particular) of a variety of food proteins, which supports the use of kiwifruit as a dietary digestive aid. (9)

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.

Most people report that digestion is vastly improved and many symptoms such as constipation, bloating & gas, IBS, indigestion, and acid reflux are alleviated.

Visit our reviews page to see what people are saying

Brett Elliott ®


Digezaid Digestive Support (120 Capsules)



Click on the individual ingredient names for more information and research on how each herb works.

Peppermint (Mentha piperita) leaf: There is enough literature to demonstrate peppermints use for medicinal purposes, for the symptomatic treatment of digestive disorders. The pharmacological studies showed antispasmodic effects of the smooth muscle of the digestive tract, gall bladder stimulating activity, and relaxation of the oesophageal sphincter enabling the release of entrapped air, plus analgesic and anti-inflammatory action.

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) seed: In clinical studies fennel has been shown to decrease spasms of the intestine and to reduce crying time in 85.4% infant subjects observed.

Pineapple (Ananas comosus) extract (Bromelain): Bromelain aids digestion by enhancing the effects of the digestive enzymes trypsin and pepsin. It can also help to prevent heartburn and ease diarrhea if either is caused by a deficiency of digestive enzymes. Plant enzymes (such as Papain and Bromelain) have been extensively investigated as meat tenderizers.

Papaya (Carica papaya) extract: Papain, the active principle in papaya that exerts the ulcer-protective effect.

Kiwifruit (Actinidia chinensis) whole fruit: In one study dietary actinidin from Kiwifruit increased gastric protein digestion and accelerated the gastric emptying for several dietary protein sources.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale) rhizome: The mechanism underlying ginger’s anti-emetic activity is not clearly understood, but the aromatic, spasmolytic, carminative, and absorbent properties of ginger suggest it has direct effects on the gastrointestinal tract. Five double-blind studies have been performed that demonstrate a positive effect of ginger on motion sickness.

Cayenne (Capsicum annuum) fruit: The active component in cayenne (Capsaicin) inhibits acid secretion, stimulates alkali and mucus secretion and particularly gastric mucosal blood flow which helps in prevention and healing of gastric ulcers.

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) root: The findings of one randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled, clinical trial on the root extract of licorice revealed a significant decrease in symptoms scores in almost all individual symptoms and found to be superior to placebo group in the management of functional dyspepsia (indigestion).

How to take Digezaid

You can take 2 to 5 Capsules Twice Daily depending on your goals. 

It is best to start with 1-2 capsules with your meals to start with. This will allow you to find the dose that works for you. Increase the dose by one capsule per meal each day until you find the dose that works for you.

It is important to look at your diet to identify any foods that may be causing a problem and also to find foods that may be helpful in themselves.
See some specific dietary recommendations for various intestinal irritations on these articles below.

Other Directions: Digezaid is recommended along with regular exercise and a healthy diet.

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