An enzyme is a protein within the body that helps speed up the rate of a chemical reaction. In the case of digestive enzymes, they do this by breaking down the food we eat into smaller particles that can then be absorbed and used by the body. Thanks to digestive enzymes, the nutrients contained within our meals and snacks are made more readily available to us.
What are the main digestive enzymes?
The main three digestive enzymes are:
- protease – breaks down protein into simple peptides and amino acids
- lipase – breaks down fats into free fatty acids and glycerol
- amylase – breaks down carbohydrates into simple sugars
In addition, digestive enzymes such as lactase, maltase and sucrase work on sugars contained within the foods we eat. For example, lactase breaks down lactose in milk. Anyone with a lactose intolerance is deficient in lactase, and therefore cannot digest dairy foods.
Where are digestive enzymes produced?
Both protease and lipase are produced in the pancreas and are released when the body senses food is being consumed. It is for this reason that the cephalic (brain) stage of eating is so important. If we can let the smell and sight of food as it’s cooking and sitting in front of us send messages to the brain that we are about to eat, the pancreas is able to produce sufficient digestive enzymes that are ready when the food reaches the small intestine. Eating on the go or in a rush dulls this response.
Some amylase is also produced in the pancreas, although it is also secreted by the salivary glands in saliva. Chewing food is key in ensuring amylase can start working immediately. Not only does chewing create a larger surface area for the various enzymes to work on, but it allows the saliva (and therefore amylase) to mix thoroughly with the food before we swallow it. Amylase activity is stopped by the high acid environment of the stomach, so the more breaking down of carbohydrates it can perform in the mouth, the better!
Which foods contain digestive enzymes?
Although protease, lipase and amylase are mostly produced by the body itself, some foods do contain these enzymes as well. Both pineapple and papaya contain proteases – bromelain and papain – while mangos and bananas contain amylase that help the fruits ripen by breaking down starches into sugars. Avocadoes contain lipase.
How can I tell if I have sufficient digestive enzymes?
Symptoms that are often linked with digestive issues and IBS such as bloating, gas, diarrhoea, cramps and constipation, may also be a sign of insufficient digestive enzyme production. Seeing recognisable particles of food in your stools, or having ‘fatty’ stools, is also an indication that food is not being broken down and digested optimally. If this is the case, then supplementing with a digestive enzyme product that contains all three main enzymes may support digestion.
Any conditions or surgeries that affect the pancreas can lead to decreased digestive enzyme production. Unfortunately, we may also secrete reduced quantities as we age which is why some people find they begin to suffer from digestive complaints as they get older. Again it may be worth trying a digestive enzyme supplement for a few months to see if symptoms improve.
Read more about digestive enzymes
A guide to digestive enzyme supplements – Forbes Health
Want to know more?
ProVen Probiotics aim to provide the best support for both you and your health. If you wish to know more about gut health and staying healthy please do not hesitate to call us on 01639 825107 or alternatively, learn more via our blogs or in-depth ProVen research.
ProVen Probiotics, Unit 2 Christchurch Road, Baglan Industrial Park, Port Talbot, SA12 7DJ. Tel: 01639 825107