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The Role of Digestive Enzymes

Updated: Dec 24, 2023

What are digestive enzymes?

Digestive enzymes are proteins produced by the body that help break down food into nutrients that can be absorbed. The role of digestive enzymes on our gut health is crucial. Digestive enzymes are produced by various organs in the body, including the pancreas, stomach, and small intestine. Without these enzymes, the body would not be able to properly digest food and absorb the nutrients necessary for maintaining good health.


Types of enzymes

There are several different types of digestive enzymes, each designed to break down specific types of nutrients. For example, proteases are enzymes that break down proteins, amylases break down carbohydrates, and lipases break down fats. Each of these enzymes works in a specific part of the digestive system, with some being produced in the mouth, others in the stomach, and still others in the small intestine.

One of the most important digestive enzymes is pancreatic lipase, which is produced by the pancreas and helps to break down fats in the small intestine. Lipase works by breaking down the chemical bonds in fats, allowing them to be broken down further by other enzymes and eventually absorbed into the bloodstream. Without pancreatic lipase, the body would not be able to properly digest fats, which could lead to a range of health problems.

Another important group of digestive enzymes is the ones that break down proteins, such as pepsin, bromelain and renin. Pepsin works by breaking down the peptide bonds that hold protein molecules together, allowing them to be further broken down by other enzymes in the small intestine. Pepsin is especially important for digesting tough, fibrous proteins like those found in meat.

In addition to these digestive enzymes, there are also enzymes produced by bacteria in the gut that help to break down certain types of food. For example, lactase is an enzyme produced by bacteria in the gut that helps to break down lactose, the sugar found in milk. Without lactase, people who are lactose intolerant would not be able to properly digest milk and other dairy products.


Factors that interfere with the production of enzymes

There are several factors that can affect the production and function of digestive enzymes. For example, certain medical conditions like pancreatitis and cystic fibrosis can interfere with the body's ability to produce enzymes, leading to problems with digestion and absorption. Age can also play a role, as the body's ability to produce enzymes can decline with age, leading to problems with nutrient absorption. Medications like antacid drugs (PPI) interfere with the normal secretion of pepsin in the stomach. Nutrition also plays a huge role in enzyme production. Consuming low-fiber foods which are low in enzymes or foods in which the enzymes have already broken down such as canned, dried, frozen, or processed foods, interferes with enzyme production. Stress is another big contributor and may affect the secretion of enzymes in the digestive system.


How can we get enzymes from food?

There are several foods that naturally contain digestive enzymes, which can help to support healthy digestion. Here are some examples:

Papaya: Papaya contains an enzyme called papain, which helps to break down proteins in the stomach. This enzyme is especially helpful for people who have difficulty digesting meat.

  • Pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain, which helps to break down proteins and reduce inflammation in the body. Bromelain supplements are also available for people who want to take a higher dose of this enzyme.

  • Mangoes contain an enzyme called amylase, which helps to break down carbohydrates. This enzyme is especially helpful for people who have difficulty digesting starchy foods like bread and pasta.

  • Kiwi contains an enzyme called actinidin, which helps to break down proteins. This enzyme is especially helpful for people who have difficulty digesting dairy products.

  • Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, tempeh and miso contain natural enzymes that help to break down carbohydrates and proteins. These foods are also rich in probiotics, which can help to promote a healthy gut microbiome.

  • Green leafy vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, spinach, rocket, lettuce, and also green juices from wheat grass or barley grass are rich in enzymes.

  • It is important to avoid the consumption of processed food and junk food, which have poor nutritional value and enzymes.

  • Soaking legumes and whole grains before cooking is very important. Prolonged soaking and cooking of these foods will increase the level of protein and the number of enzymes found in them.


It's important to note that while eating foods that contain digestive enzymes can be helpful for supporting healthy digestion, these enzymes are typically not present in high enough concentrations to provide therapeutic benefits for people with digestive issues.

There are certain health conditions, such as Crohn's disease, Ulcerative colitis or Sibo, there is a violation of enzymatic secretion and it is not possible to consume a large amount of dietary fiber, In these cases, enzyme supplements may be necessary to help improve digestion and nutrient absorption. It's always a good idea to talk to a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement regimen.


Digestive enzymes supplumentation

In some cases, people may benefit from taking enzyme supplements to help improve digestion. These supplements typically contain a combination of different enzymes designed to break down a range of nutrients. They can be especially helpful for people with conditions that affect the production of digestive enzymes, or for those who have difficulty digesting certain types of food.


In conclusion, digestive enzymes play a critical role in the breakdown and absorption of nutrients in the body. Without these enzymes, the body would not be able to properly digest food or absorb the nutrients necessary for maintaining good health. There are a wide range of different enzymes produced by various organs in the body, each designed to break down specific types of nutrients. Factors like age and certain medical conditions can affect the production and function of these enzymes, and in some cases, enzyme supplements may be helpful for improving digestion.



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