Digestive enzymes, as their name implies, help you break down food into smaller parts that can
be absorbed, transported and utilized by every cell in your body. Digestive enzymes are extra-cellular—meaning, they are found outside your cells.
Once consumed, your meal begins a complicated, multi-phased journey of breakdown and conversion into nutrients your body can use. This process is, of course, called digestion, and enzymes play a key role.
There are eight primary digestive enzymes, each designed to help break down different types of food:
Protease: Digesting protein
Amylase: Digesting carbohydrates
Lipase: Digesting fats
Cellulase: Breaking down fiber
Maltase: Converting complex sugars from grains into glucose
Lactase: Digesting milk sugar (lactose) in dairy products
Phytase: Helps with overall digestion, especially in producing the B vitamins
Sucrase: Digesting most sugars
Digestion begins in your mouth, starting with saliva. Did you know that you produce about 1.7 liters of saliva each day? Your mouth is where enzymes (primarily amylase) begin to exert their action. Amylase in your saliva begins to break down carbohydrates.
As food passes into your stomach, proteins are worked on by protease. From there, the bolus of food passes into your small intestine, where lipase begins to break down fats, and amylase finishes off the carbohydrates.
Did you know that 90 percent of your digestion and absorption takes place in your small intestine?
From here, the micronutrients are absorbed into your bloodstream through millions of tiny villi in the wall of your gut. But what happens when this process goes awry?
Aftermath of the Western Diet: Enzyme Deficiency
Insufficient enzyme production is at the root of much "tummy trouble" in our country. Digestive problems cost Americans $50 billion each year in both direct costs and absence from work.
It is a sad fact that 90 percent of the food Americans buy is processed food. Diets heavy in cooked, processed, and sugary foods, combined with overuse of pharmaceutical drugs such as antibiotics, deplete your body's ability to make enzymes.
Enzymes may be relatively large, but their protein structures are fragile. The amino acids in the molecular chain link together to form certain patterns and shapes, which give enzymes their unique characteristics and functions. When something disrupts the chain's structure, the enzyme becomes "denatured"—it changes shape and loses its ability to perform.
Heating your food above 116 degrees F renders most enzymes inactive
This is one of the reasons it's so important to eat your foods raw. Raw foods are enzyme-rich, and consuming them decreases your body's burden to produce its own enzymes. The more food that you can eat raw, the better. Ideally, you should get 75 percent of your digestive enzymes from your food.
Enzyme deficiency results in poor digestion and poor nutrient absorption. This creates a variety of gastrointestinal symptoms, including:
Flatulence and belching
Heartburn and acid reflux
Chronic malabsorption can lead to a variety of illnesses. Think about it—if your body doesn't have the basic nutritional building blocks it needs, your health and ability to recover from illness will be compromised.
Besides breaking down food, enzymes (particularly the proteases) can help with gut healing, controlling pathogens, and immune support. Your immune system begins in your gut—and if you have enzyme and digestive issues, chances are your immune system isn't functioning as well as it should be.
Complicating matters, your capacity for enzyme production also declines with age.
How Aging Affects Your Enzyme Production
Research has shown that your natural enzyme production starts to decline by the time you're about 20.
Studies show that, every ten years, your body's production of enzymes decreases by 13 percent. So by age 40, your enzyme production could be 25 percent lower than it was when you were a child. And by the time you're 70, you could be producing only ONE-THIRD of the enzymes you need.
Making matters worse, your stomach produces less hydrochloric acid as you age, and hydrochloric acid is crucial in activating your stomach's digestive enzymes.
When digestion of foods requires such a heavy demand, enzyme supplies run short and your enzyme-producing capacity can become exhausted. Why does this matter? The high demand for digestive enzymes depletes your body's production of metabolic enzymes, which every cell in your body needs in order to function
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