What are digestive enzymes, and why are they so important?
We eat food, but our digestive system doesn’t absorb food, it absorbs nutrients. Food has to be broken down from things like lamb and carrots into its nutrient pieces: amino acids, fatty acids and cholesterol (from fats), and simple sugars (from carbohydrates), as well as vitamins, minerals, and a variety of other plant and animal compounds. Digestive enzymes are produced in the pancreas and small intestine. They break down our food into nutrients so that our bodies can absorb them.
If we don’t have enough digestive enzymes, we can’t break down our food—which means even though we’re eating well, we aren’t absorbing all those good nutrients.
What would cause digestive enzymes to stop working correctly in the body?
First, diseases may prevent proper digestive enzyme production.
Pancreatic problems, including cystic fibrosis, pancreatic cancer, and acute or chronic pancreatitis.
Autoimmune Diseases, the most severe is long standing Celiac disease, where the brush border is flattened or destroyed. Other diseases like Crohn’s can also cause severe problems.
But even in the absence of any obvious disease, things still may not be working correctly.
Low-grade inflammation in the digestive tract (such as that caused by food allergies or intolerances intestinal permeability, dysbiosis, parasitic infection, etc.) Ie a Leaky Gut can lead to deficiencies in digestive enzymes.
1)Low stomach acid
Chronic stress. This is the most common reason for digestive enzyme problems. Our body has two modes: sympathetic “fight or flight,” and parasympathetic “rest and digest.” When we’re in “fight or flight” mode, digestion is given a very low priority, which means digestive function (including digestive enzyme output) is dialed down. Chronic stress means constant “fight of flight” mode which then means impaired digestive enzyme output.
How do we correct a digestive enzyme deficiency?
First, a Leaky Gut diet can help to restore normal digestive function, including digestive enzymes. Dietary interventions work by reducing inflammation in the body and the digestive tract, improving nutrient deficiencies, removing enzyme inhibitors by taking out things like grains and legumes, and fixing gut bacteria.
Managing chronic stress is important to restoring healthy digestive function. Most of us are stuffing food in our faces at our desks or while we’re on the go, then we’re off to do the next thing on our to do list. We live most of our lives in sympathetic mode—we do not give high priority to properly digesting our food. When we sit down to eat food, we should switch into a parasympathetic mode, and ideally stay in parasympathetic mode for a while afterwards. Just like the European have long meals, followed by a siesta.
So, after implementing these healthy dietary and lifestyle practices, digestive enzyme supplementation may be necessary to help your body to correctly break down your food.
How do I know if I should be taking digestive enzyme supplements?
The best way to know is by stool testing, to measure how well you’re digesting and how well your pancreas is producing digestive enzymes. Many traditional medical doctors are unlikely to run these tests. If you’d like to run one of these tests, seek out a qualified alternative provider who you trust.
Other symptoms that suggest you might have problems with digestive enzymes are:
-Gas and bloating after meals
-The sensation that you have food sitting in your stomach (a rock in your gut)
-Feeling full after eating a few bites of food
-Undigested food in your stool*
-Floating stools (an occasional floating piece is fine, but if all your poop consistently floats, that might be a sign something is wrong)
-An “oil slick” in the toilet bowl (undigested fat)
If you’re serious about your health, I encourage you to look at your stools—it’s one of the simplest ways you can gain insight into your health. Take a glance a few times a week. If there’s a significant change, have a talk with your doctor; it could be a sign of something going on.
The medical information on this post is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.It should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment.