14 Signs You May Benefit From Taking Digestive Enzymes
As previously posted on onbetterliving.com
If you don’t think your digestion is at its best, taking a digestive enzyme supplement before each meal may reduce symptoms like gas and bloating while helping you to absorb more nutrients.
Having truly healthy digestion isn’t just about getting through a meal without feeling like our stomach is burning or it tripled after we've eaten. And there’s a lot more to healthy digestion than just the mechanical action of food moving through the digestive tract. Starting with the act of chewing, our food moves through the digestive tract and is then exposed to a variety of digestive juices with different functions that break it down into smaller molecules. Each of our digestive organs including our stomach and intestines, has their own special function. But it's only when our food is properly broken down with the help of digestive enzymes that our body can truly use the nutrients packed inside that we need for energy, growth, and cell repair. And while there are many reasons why the body can be deficient in digestive enzymes, it can cause a variety of short- and long-term symptoms.
How Do Digestive Enzymes Work?
Enzymes are types of proteins that speed up or “catalyze” chemical reactions in our body. There are many types of enzymes in the body, but digestive enzymes in particular work to break large food molecules into smaller molecules with the help of water molecules. This process is called hydrolysis.
Similar to a lock and key, the 3D shape of each enzyme only fits with the specific foods they are designed to break down. Some specifically break down proteins while others break down fats or carbs. Enzymes are super-efficient and once they complete a reaction, they move on to the next molecule, doing this over and over again. And it's only because they’re so fast and efficient that our body is able to digest our food to get the energy and nutrients like vitamins and minerals within.
Digestive enzymes are primarily made by the stomach, pancreas, and small intestine, but our saliva glands are in on the fun too.
Some of the major digestive enzymes in the body include:
Sucrase - This intestinal enzyme breaks down sucrose into glucose and fructose. Sucrose, known as “table sugar” is a naturally occurring sugar found in a variety of fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
Amylase - Released by the salivary glands and the pancreas, amylase breaks down starches.
Lipase- Made by the pancreas, mouth and stomach this enzyme helps break down fats.
Protease - Proteases break down proteins into peptides and then amino acids. Pepsin made by the stomach is one type of protease and trypsin and chymotrypsin are made by the pancreas.
Alpha-galactosidase - This enzyme works on digesting the complex sugars like those found in beans and cruciferous vegetables that can cause gas and bloating.
Lactase - Got milk? This enzyme is required to help you digest the natural sugar found in milk called lactose.
There are other digestive enzymes that are not made by our body, but naturally found in raw and fermented plant-based foods we eat:
Cellulase- This enzyme is found mostly in green plants and veggies and is necessary to break down cellulose (the plant fibre that makes up the cell walls of plants) into beta-glucose - an important form of energy in the body
Bromelain - Found in pineapples, bromelain helps break down proteins.
Papain - An enzyme from papayas that digests protein.
Signs and Symptoms You Might Benefit From Taking Digestive Enzymes
A perfectly healthy person will produce the right amount of digestive enzymes their body needs. But there are a variety of factors that can cause us to become deficient. If your body isn’t making enough enzymes, this can lead to malnourishment, gastrointestinal issues, and a variety of other symptoms, even if you’re eating a balanced healthy diet.
But luckily digestive enzymes in supplemental form can be an effective way to help your body break down food, increase nutrient absorption and reduce symptoms like gas or bloating.
Here are some signs your body may not be making enough digestive enzymes and you may benefit from a digestive enzyme supplement:
- You Have Digestive “Issues”
One of the first signs, your digestive enzymes may be low is if you experience digestive issues like:
- Acid reflux
- Irregular bowel movements
- Undigested food in your stool
This includes feeling like food is just sitting in your stomach or you’re full after only a few bites of food.
- You Have a Poor Diet
What we eat has a lot to do with how our body functions. And that also means that a poor diet can reduce the amount of digestive enzymes that are released when we eat. Eating low amounts of fruits and veggies with high amounts of cooked processed foods high in sugar, or inflammatory foods like gluten, dairy, corn, soy and even coffee and alcohol can all have a negative effect on whether your digestive enzymes are at their best.
- You’re Tired All the Time Even Though You Eat Healthy
You can eat all the veggies and salads in the world, but if your digestive enzymes are low, there’s no way you’ll be able to unlock the treasure trove of nutrients locked inside. Which means your body isn’t going to be able to absorb the nutrients it needs for energy. This can lead to nutrient deficiencies and fatigue and other symptoms can set in.
- You’re Chronically Stressed Out
Stress is an underlying cause of many symptoms and ultimately diseases, but it can also affect how well your digestion system is functioning. When you’re stressed not only is it common to experience symptoms of heartburn and diarrhea, but your body may also have trouble releasing enough digestive enzymes. Stress can also put a greater energy and nutrient demand on the body. Getting your digestive enzymes in check can help you get the nutrients you need to help your body combat the effects of stress in the first place.
- You’re Over the Age of 45
There’s nothing we can do about aging. But by the time we hit around 45, our enzyme production starts to decrease. This is when we can start having trouble digesting certain foods. Taking a digestive enzyme supplement can help your body break down the foods it was once able to.
- You Can’t Lose Weight
If you’re eating right and exercising and the scale isn’t moving, there’s a possibility you may be low in digestive enzymes. Poor digestion can hinder the proper absorption of nutrients and give the body trouble expelling waste and toxins, causing excess storage of water and fat.
- You Get Sick Often or Have Problems With Candida (Yeast)
We’ve already learned that the job of your digestive enzymes is to break down food into smaller molecules so your body can get the nutrients it needs. But they also help break down some rough fibre we eat. This in turn helps feed and promote the growth of the good bacteria in your gut through the process of fermentation. Super important for our immunity and the strength of our gut lining, these good bacteria help crowd out yeast and other bad microbes from taking over. With 70-80% of our immunity located in the gut, a healthy gut lining is our first line of defense.
- You’re Pregnant
Even if you’re generally a healthy person, pregnancy can put a great nutritional and energetic demand on the body which means your digestive enzymes might not be at their best. It’s common for pregnant women to experience digestive upset, but a digestive enzyme supplement may help ease symptoms for some.
- You Have Trouble Digesting Certain Foods Like Milk
If you have trouble digesting milk-based foods you may be low in the enzyme lactase, which digests lactose, the sugar found in milk, cheeses, and ice-cream. Lack of this enzyme doesn’t necessarily mean you’re unhealthy as lactose intolerance can be passed down through families and is prevalent in a large population.  Causing bloating, nausea and sometimes cramping, lactose intolerance can sometimes be eased by taking a digestive enzyme supplement.
- You Have a Chronic Illness
A variety of diseases can directly cause a deficiency in digestive enzymes. These include:
- Diseases of the small intestine like Crohn’s or Celiac disease
- Diseases of the pancreas including chronic pancreatitis and cancer
- Cystic fibrosis
- SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth)
- Gallbladder Disease
- You Have Skin Issues and Breakouts
For a long time doctors and researchers have believed there is a connection between the health of our skin and the health of our guts. Although studies about the connection between digestive health and your skin are limited, many health practitioners believe skin conditions like acne, eczema, and psoriasis, are external symptoms of an underlying internal problem.
Digestive enzymes can help the body break down and absorb skin nourishing nutrients like omega 3-fatty acids, zinc and vitamins A, C, and E to help your skin be healthy. 
- You Have Leaky Gut
Leaky gut is a condition where gaps in the lining of your intestinal wall, caused by inflammation, allow large undigested food particles to get into your bloodstream. The immune system then attacks these particles as if they are foreign invaders which can cause symptoms like fatigue, food allergies and sensitivities, as well as deficiencies of nutrients like vitamin B12 and magnesium. Down the line it may also cause certain auto-immune diseases. 
Digestive enzymes help your body break down food into a safe and easily absorbable form while decreasing the ability for partially digested food particles to cause damage to the gut wall and activate the immune system.
- You Drink Alcohol Frequently or Take Certain Drugs
If you’re drinking alcohol regularly and you notice you’re also having digestive issues, it may be best to take a break. While many people like to drink because it “helps them relax ,” it also relaxes other processes in the body including the release of digestive enzymes. 
Acid blockers can also prevent your body from releasing certain necessary digestive enzymes (pepsin).  Smoking is also a no-no if you want to make sure you have healthy digestive enzyme concentrations in the body. 
How to Increase Digestive Enzymes
Choosing certain whole foods is one way to help build up your digestive enzymes and maintain a healthy gut. The primary sources of enzymes are raw vegetables, fruits, and berries, sprouted seeds, nuts, and legumes. Pineapple, mango, ginger, papaya, avocado, bananas, and kiwi are great sources of plant-based digestive enzymes. Naturally fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, kefir, and sauerkraut, help our good gut bacteria thrive are also important sources of enzymes.
But we can’t get all our digestive enzymes from food alone. Which means supplementing with digestive enzymes can be an effective and sometimes necessary way to get your digestive system happy again.
They can also help you reduce or even for some, eliminate unpleasant digestive symptoms like bloating and gas, while helping you absorb more nutrients.
What to Look for in a Good Digestive Enzyme Formula
When looking for a quality digestive enzyme formula three important things to consider are:
- It should include a wide variety of enzymes.This can help break down a variety of different foods since each enzyme has a specific function.
- The enzymes on the label should be measured in specified units which show the potency of an enzyme.This would be HUT (for protease), ALU (for lactase), DU (for amylase), and FIP (for lipase), etc. Weight alone (mg) does not show this.
- They should be free of preservatives, allergens or other harmful ingredients that may trigger unpleasant symptoms.
When is The Best Time to Take Digestive Enzymes?
It’s best to take your digestive enzymes just before you eat. For a heavy meal, take an additional capsule in the middle of the meal. You can also sprinkle them over the top of your food before eating.
How long does it take for digestive enzymes to work?
Once you take a digestive enzyme capsule, they will begin acting immediately.
Who Shouldn't Take Digestive Enzymes?
It’s always best to check with a doctor before starting any new supplement or regimen. Certain digestive enzyme supplements may interact with antacids and certain diabetes medications.
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