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Enzymes for Digestion

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enzymes-for-digestionOver the Counter Enzymes to Optimize Your Digestion.

In the human body, digestion is a complex process with many players taking part. All of these actions take place without our knowing—like a cast of actors whose performances we admire but can't see. Act 1 begins with the tongue, mouth, teeth and oral cavity breaking down foods which then travel to the stomach where acidic digestive juices are added for Act 2.

What are Enzymes?

A key player in the entire process is the pancreas which serves three functions—producing, storing and secreting enzymes for digestion. Act 3 happens when the pancreas senses that there is food in the small intestine and shoots out a mixture containing the enzymes amylase, protease and lipase along with other substances into the duodenum. Amylases (also part of saliva) break down carbohydrates. Proteases break down protein. Lipases break down fats. Over the counter enzyme supplents can play a role in aiding digestion.

Why Do We Need Digestive Enzymes?

We need enzymes because life would not exist without them. Digestive enzymes perform a multitude of functions, especially turning food into nutrients which makes it small enough to pass through pores into the bloodstream. Our bodies produce digestive enzymes naturally, and we also get them from plant and animal foods. Without sufficient digestive enzymes, the body calls upon metabolic enzymes (designed for cell tissue regeneration) for digestion purposes. Redirecting metabolic enzymes for digestive purposes causes stress on the body and can contribute to ill health.

Enzymes and the Bloodstream

In the lining of the small intestine, enzymes (lactase, DPP IV, disaccharides and others) help move nutrients through the bloodstream and several organs. If this seems complicated already, it's only Act 4 of a dramatic process with about 22 different digestive enzymes that control a whole host of functions. The liver produces bile which is stored in the gallbladder. Bile allows fats to mix with water so they can be acted upon by—you guessed it—enzymes. The final acts are played by the nervous system and circulatory systems which have important roles in the elegant but complex process of the human body's enzyme digestive system.

Taking Enzyme Supplements

As we get older, we lose our ability to produce digestive enzymes within our own organs. Enzyme supplements can help boost the body's natural supply. Symptoms that may indicate poor digestion are bloating, belching, gas, bowel disorders, abdominal cramping, acid reflux, heartburn and food allergies. Unless you know you have a particular problem, drug companies recommend buying supplements that contain several different types of enzymes (but not if you are diabetic or taking blood thinners). No brands are listed here because, to date, studies assessing the efficacy of over the counter enzymes are inconclusive. When buying a supplement, check that it is plant-based with a broad ph so that it will work with both an acidic stomach and alkaline intestines.

Foods that Optimize Enzyme Digestion

Before purchasing over the counter enzymes to optimize your digestion, try using enzyme rich foods that help the process. The following is a sample: avocados, bananas, beets, broccoli, cabbage, coconuts, figs, flaxseeds, ginger root, honey, kiwi, mushrooms, oats, papaya, pineapple, raw red meats, romaine lettuce, spinach and wheat.

As high-temperature cooking (118 degrees F or above) kills enzymes, it's best to eat foods raw whenever possible or steam them gently to optimize enzyme benefits. 

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