The Food Breakdown
This month we are talking about digestive enzymes!
Eat too much at that BBQ? Food adventures giving you indigestion? Or are you experiencing regular problems with indigestion and upset stomach? The key could be digestive enzymes. Bloating, gas, indigestion, diarrhea, and abdominal pain could all point to a deficiency in digestive enzymes. Those who with health issues regarding their liver, gallbladder, stomach, intestines, or colon could all have issues with malabsorption from a lack of enzymes.
There are two categories of enzymes: digestive and metabolic. For this purpose of this blog we shall be discussing Digestive Enzymes. In the chemical reaction known as hydrolysis, which involves using water to break chemical bonds, digestive enzymes break down food particles for energy. The energy can then be stored and used as needed by the body.
“Digestive enzymes are secreted along the gastrointestinal tract and break down foods, enabling the nutrients to be absorbed into the blood stream for use in various bodily functions.” (Balch, Prescription for Nutritional Healing; Fifth ed.; 2010; p.72). The symptoms of a deficiency in digestive enzymes include: bloating, gas, indigestion, diarrhea, and pain. The most difficult macro nutrients to break down are fats, followed by proteins, then carbohydrates. There are three main categories of digestive enzymes: Amylase, Protease, and Lipase. Amylase is found in saliva, pancreatic juices, and intestinal juices. It is needed to break down carbohydrates and different types of amylase break down specific sugars, such as Lactase to break down lactose (milk sugar). Protease is found in stomach juices, pancreatic juices, and intestinal juices. It is specific to the breakdown of protein. Lipase is found in stomach and pancreatic juices. While it is present in the fats of foods, it is also aids in the digestion of fats. The number of digestive enzymes goes on but generally fall under these three categories. Side note for those without a gallbladder, bile flow which is regulated by the gall bladder is where our supply of lipase comes from. Which means we have a hard time breaking down fats. Also, our ability to break down certain foods decreases with age.
People start taking digestive enzymes for any number of reasons, most commonly indigestion. However, anyone with a ‘malabsorption issue, a yeast infection or are over the age of 60’ (Balch; 2010; p. 73) should also take digestive enzymes. While manufactured supplements of digestive enzymes are the most popular and convenient, there are also food sources for many digestive enzymes: Avocados, Pineapples, Papayas, Bananas, and Mangos. Enzymes from Papaya and Pineapple are papain and bromelain which are proteolytic enzymes which break down proteins.
With the convenience of a capsule, tablet, or chewable, digestive enzyme supplements that provide a variety of enzymes from all three categories generally have the best effect and benefit people the most. It is important to keep in mind that as we age, our body’s ability to produce digestive enzymes decreases.
Our wonderful tropical fruit, the papaya, is the ultimate after-meal supplement. Papaya leaf, latex, roots, and fruit contain a chemical called papain. Papain has been proven to break down proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, especially proteins. It is also one of the few digestive aids that is most effective after a large/heavy meal.
“Carica papaya lipase is an enzyme found in the papaya fruit that may help digestion. A 2009 study published in the journal "Food Chemistry" found that this enzyme digested dietary fats called triacylglycerols in a lab environment. This papaya enzyme showed similar effects to natural pancreatic enzymes, which break down fats in your body. Taking a papaya enzyme supplement that contains C. papaya lipase might be beneficial for people with digestive problems due to a pancreatic disorder. However, further research is needed to determine if papaya enzymes have the same effect inside the body.
Research conducted at the University of Illinois found that papaya fruit contains an enzyme called papain. This compound has proteolytic properties, meaning it can break down the proteins found in foods such as meat and poultry. The study concluded that papain is found in both unripe and ripe papayas, but may have stronger protein-digesting activity in ripe papayas. Papaya enzyme supplements that contain papain may help improve your protein digestion.”
Next on the tropical fruit whirlwind tour is Pineapple. Bromelain is the name given to the enzyme found in Pineapple fruit and plant stem. Bromelain is a proteolytic enzyme, which means is breaks down proteins. Now, many of you may know that Bromelain is great for inflammation, but we’re going to talk all about that another time!
“… it’s an enzyme that specifically helps with digesting proteins and has been found to help your body absorb nutrients and even medications more efficiently. Studies suggest that it decreases colonic inflammation and reduces secretion of pro-inflammatory cytokines that damage the gut lining. Because it’s very effective at healing tissues within the gastrointestinal tract, bromelain is beneficial for people with any of the following GI problems: Inflammatory bowel disease; Ulcerative colitis; Dyspepsia, or peptic ulcers due to heliobactor pylori infections; Colon cancer; Constipation; Crohn’s disease; Heartburn; Diarrhea.” -Source
Betaine HCI is used to treat Hypochlorhydria. “Hypochlorhydria is the low production of stomach acid, or decreased secretion of HCl. This state of low acid can negatively impact the proper digestion of food and may allow bacteria into the gut that would have normally been killed by the acid. Betaine hydrochloride has been successfully used in conventional medicine to treat hypochlorhydria. Undigested food that remains in the digestive system may be linked to issues ranging from a lack of nutrient absorption to hormone disruption. Dr. Robert J. Hedaya, in his 2001 book "The Antidepressant Survival Guide: The Clinically Proven Program to Enhance the Benefits and Beat the Side Effects of Your Medication," recommends taking betaine HCl if you suffer from symptoms such as bloating after meals, frequent belching or constipation. He notes to take approximately 600 mg of betaine in the middle of the meal so as to not burn the lining of an empty stomach.”-Source
Herbal Digestive Answers
There are a number of herbs that have been beneficial for digestion. Aloe Vera, Cayenne, Ginger, and Peppermint just to name a few. Not to mention digestive bitters!
Aloe Vera is an herbal laxative that helps promote mucous secretions in the intestines and contain enzymes that aid in food breakdown. Aloe gel also promotes regular bowel movements and can prevent/treat heartburn.
Cayenne increases digestive fluid production, helps deliver enzymes to the stomach, and defends the stomach against infection. Cayenne accomplishes this by stimulating the nerves in the stomach.
“While some believe that spicy food may cause stomach ulcers, a review paper has shown that the capsaicin in cayenne peppers may actually help reduce the risk of stomach ulcers.”- Source
Ginger is used primarily for nausea caused from indigestion. “Ginger has been proven to protect against heartburn because it prevents the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) from loosening, which means acid cannot regurgitate back into the esophagus. Additionally, ginger can kill harmful bacteria that is linked to acid reflux.” -Source
Peppermint is a fantastic herb for soothing indigestion, lower intestinal pains, and IBS (specifically when enterically coated Peppermint oil pills are taken orally). Though wonderful for these disorders, Peppermint is not helpful for GERD or Heartburn.
Digestive Bitters “Since bitters are derived from plant matter, they serve as a food or herbal tonic to stimulate the digestive process to optimal function. The biological functions vitalized include digestive enzyme production, bile secretion, and stomach acid levels. Specific digestive organs triggered to action include the pancreas, gall bladder, stomach and liver.
In order for optimal preventative results, bitters taken as a tonic should be ingested via mouth 10-15 minutes before eating. Experiencing the bitter flavor on the tongue initiates the effect starting the salivary glands, which is why bitters should not be taken in pill or capsule form. The stimulation of the taste buds and increased saliva output is the signal to rest of the digestive process to produce and release the necessary enzymes and digestive juices for proper and thorough digestion of food. Cabbage works in much the same way as a reflux preventative.
Andrew Weil MD suggests bitters as a preventative writing that “just as sweets cause blood sugar, insulin, and hunger to spike and then dip — often leading, long term, to obesity and Type 2 diabetes — research indicates bitter foods can have the opposite effect, moderating both hunger and blood sugar.
As a remedy for an acute situation, bitters can be taken after a meal when upset stomach, indigestion, bloating or heartburn is being experienced. Common bitter herbs used historically for this purpose and other ailments include: Angelica, Chamomile, Dandelion, Gentian, Goldenseal, Horehound, Milk Thistle, Peppermint, Rue, Slippery Elm, Wormwood, and Yarrow.” -Source
Good Products to Check out
• Eureka Natural Foods’ Ultra Veggie Enzymes is our best-selling full spectrum digestive enzymes blend. Our store’s blend includes Bromelain and Papain and is always hypo-allergenic.
• Source Naturals Essential Enzymes is a Bio-Aligned Formula and contains a wide spectrum digestive enzyme blend to help breakdown all proteins, fats, fiber, carbs, and milk sugars. This is great everyday digestive enzyme blends.
• American Health makes the best-selling line of Papaya chewable enzymes.
• Herb Pharm also has a line of flavored digestive bitters drops called Better Bitters.
• Country Life’s new Acid Rescue is the healthy alternative to over-the-counter antacids! This is a calcium carbonate, chewable that comes in Mint and Berry flavors. This is a great stomach rescue for those unfortunate true moments of heartburn!
* Please come in to see our entire selection of digestive enzymes. Talk to a Wellness Clerk and find the right digestive enzyme or bitter for you!
* Remember that digestive enzymes are only one aspect of gut health, please don’t forget the probiotics!
Some more Vocabulary!
Whole-Food Based Supplements: “made by growing nutrients in yeast, where a whole food’s various beneficial compounds, including vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, concentrate in the yeast cells. Though these supps often contain smaller amounts of nutrients, they’re free from fillers and binders, which can affect bioavailability.” Reference. New Chapter is a company that falls under this category.
Food-Based Supplements: “made by using enzymes to compound synthetic and natural vitamins with vegetable proteins, or by blending natural and synthetic nutrients into a whole-food or herbal base.” Reference. Rainbow Light and Bluebonnet are food based.
ICS Certified Organic: An international organic certification program that adheres to USDA Organic standards as well as others. Find out more about their standards and programs of certifications here.
Disclaimer: We are not doctors. We cannot diagnose, prescribe, or recommend anything. If you are thinking of making major lifestyle changes, please consult your doctor or Naturopathic doctor. Statements made here have not been verified by the FDA.