YOUR DIGESTIVE ENZYMES QUESTIONS ANSWERED!
Digestive enzymes play a critical role in your digestion. They help break down large food molecules (fat, carbohydrates, proteins) into smaller ones that your body can absorb and then use as essential building blocks to create new cells, neurotransmitters and other needed molecules. Adequate digestive enzyme activity is critical for normal gastrointestinal function and overall health (1).
Now, there are three main enzymes involved in the digestion of macronutrients they are amylase, protease, and lipase. Intestinal mucosal enzymes, including sucrase, lactase, maltase, as well as other enzymes, such as protease with dipeptidyl peptidase IV activity, are also important for complete digestion and assimilation of nutrients.
At Remedy we see many people that have GI symptoms and get questions related to digestion frequently. Depending on the situation, digestive enzyme supplementation is a common strategy we recommend. Today we will be answering a few of those questions for you!
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU MAY BE LACKING ADEQUATE DIGESTIVE ENZYME ACTIVITY?
When foods are NOT completely digested, due to decreased activity of digestive enzymes or otherwise, byproducts of partially digested and undigested food can cause symptoms of occasional gas, bloating, belching, or nausea. If you experience these symptoms, it may be worth trying out a digestive enzyme supplement to see if your symptoms improve.
WHY WOULD YOUR DIGESTIVE ENZYMES NOT BE WORKING AS THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO?
There are some more serious conditions which are associated with pancreatic insufficiency, like cystic fibrosis, diabetes, and pancreatic cancer. These conditions reduce your body's ability to produce adequate AMOUNTS of these enzymes. Also, people with lactase deficiency may have genetic factors that lead to reduced amounts of specific enzymes to ensure complete breakdown of certain nutrients. However, what is more common is GI environments that don’t support the optimal ACTIVITY of the enzymes. That is because digestive enzymes require specific pH conditions for optimal activity. For example, pepsin activity in the stomach requires normal gastric acidity, whereas pancreatic enzymes are optimally active only in neutral to alkaline intestinal conditions. This means that anything that throws off your body’s ability to create the correct pH in the correct area can reduce the effectiveness of digestion.
SO WHAT TYPES OF THINGS MIGHT AFFECT MY GUT PH?
Research has shown that production of bicarbonate, needed to alkalinize the upper small intestine, and gastric acid, needed to activate pepsin in the stomach, can decline with age (2,3,4). So age can be a common reason, but other big contributors are acid suppression medications, like proton pump inhibitors, and the big one, an unbalanced MICROBIOME. We don’t have time to go in-depth on that topic today, but having the correct bacteria in your gut can be a big factor in digestion, including how the microbiome affects pH levels and digestive enzyme levels.
WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR IN A DIGESTIVE ENZYME?
There are a few things to look for in a digestive enzyme. You first need to make sure that the enzymes will be ACTIVE. Because some enzymes can be degraded in the high acidity of the stomach, looking for either an enteric-coated version or ones that are synthesized from microbial sources are key (5,6). Studies have shown that microbe-derived enzymes require a lower dosage to be effective and a broader pH range of activity than animal-based counterparts (7). These microbe-derived enzymes also are suggested for anyone who is vegan or vegetarian. At Remedy we stock microbe-derived, vegetarian-friendly enzymes!
Another factor to consider when selecting digestive enzyme products is if you would like a formulation with only the enzymes or if you need to get a formula that also contains acid. As we previously reviewed, even if you have an adequate amount of enzymes if you do not have enough natural acid production to create the correct pH you may not be getting the full benefit of the digestive enzymes. The acid in digestive enzyme products is typically referred to as Betaine HCl. At Remedy, we stock a version of digestive enzymes with and without Betaine HCL as well as Betaine HCL by itself.
SO SHOULD I TAKE DIGESTIVE ENZYMES?
The benefit of digestive enzyme supplementation is certainly well studied and supported in certain conditions but is still evolving. For the average person who is struggling with symptoms of incomplete digestion, we suggest a trial of digestive enzymes based on the fact that they are very safe and many people have seen uncomfortable GI symptoms improve once they have added these enzymes into a gut healing protocol. For some people, digestive enzymes are only needed for a short period of time as they work on correcting underlying causes of GI distress, while others may require longer-term supplementation. Digestive enzymes and gastrointestinal pH balance may support digestion or nutrient absorption and may contribute to a variety of other health-supporting functions.
Fell free to pop into the pharmacy to get personalized product recommendations and ask any other questions!
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