Good question, what do enzymes do and more good questions might be what are enzymes and do you need enzymes? First of all there are different types of enzymes which are proteins that trigger chemical reactions in the body for various metabolic functions necessary to sustain life like digesting food and clotting the blood. That tells you basically what enzymes are and that you definitely need them in order to live. This article will concentrate on the digestive enzymes that help break down food into a form small enough to be absorbed and used by the body.
Enzymes in the Digestive Process
We can get enzymes from foods that we eat. The way digestive enzymes should work is that enzymes in saliva start working to break down food in the chewing process, then food makes its way down to the stomach where it encounters more enzymes and breaks down about 75% of the food over the next hour. After that hour hydrochloric acid mixes into the equation in the stomach to help in digesting proteins. Proteins have to be broken down into amino acids in order for the body to use them. It all moves next to the small intestine and the alkaline bicarbonate supplied by the pancreas neutralizes the acid. The pancreas also adds the digestive enzymes protease, lipase and amylase. Finally the food is totally broken down into usable components and nutrients go through the wall of the intestine to the bloodstream. Proteins have become amino acids, fats have become fatty acids and carbs have become glucose. This is ideally what happens in the digestive process. Problems occur when we don’t have enough digestive enzymes from foods for this process to go smoothly. Raw foods supply the enzymes that we need, but once foods are cooked or processed, the heat kills off the enzymes. When the body finds itself without enough enzymes to do the job it needs to do, it looks for others ways to get the job done such as adding in more stomach acid or releasing more amylase in the saliva. These type of solutions though interfere with the “predigestion” phase and food ends up staying in the stomach with no digestion taking place during the first hour and causing the small intestine and pancreas to overwork. Since the digestion process at best takes a large amount of energy, when the system is not working smoothly you can be left feeling physically fatigued and with harmful bacteria and parasites taking over the intestines leading to poor gut health and diseases.
Eating a raw food diet may help you get the majority of the enzymes you need for proper digestion, but since most of us don’t eat that way adding a digestive enzyme supplement to the diet may be useful. Liz Lipski, integrative nutritionist and author of the book, Digestive Wellness, is one of the experts that recommends digestive enzyme supplements for patients who experience bloating and gas several hours after eating and to help keep food moving through the digestive process. Adding in raw foods when you can to your diet can also help supply you with more enzymes. Eating raw nuts and seeds are an easy way to get some extra enzymes in to your day. Just eat as a snack by themselves or sprinkle on salads or on top of other foods. Pumpkin and hemp seeds, and almonds, pecans, and walnuts are some of the best for extra enzymes, but make sure you are eating them raw, not roasted, boiled toasted, fried or pasteurized. You also need to break down the protein inhibitors found naturally in nuts and seeds otherwise you will defeat the purpose of eating them for their enzymes as those inhibitors will stop enzymes from working on breaking down proteins and just add more stress on the pancreas. Soaking nuts and seeds before eating them will prevent this problem. The soaking time varies according to the nut or seed so you may need to do a little research on your favorites, but for an example, almonds and walnuts need to be soaked for 8 hours and pistachios and pine nuts only need 2 hours of soaking.
High Quality Enzyme Supplements
There are a multitude of digestive enzyme supplements on the market to choose from and prescription forms too. When looking for a high quality supplement examine the label. You want to look for one that lists the specific enzymes included with their FCC (Food Chemical Codex) Units. This tells you not just how much of the enzyme is present, but how effective it is. Since the enzymes need to work in differing pH environments as food passes through various parts of the digestive system, there needs to be more than one kind of protease as there is not just one kind that can work in all these environments. You also want to look for a supplement that does not include enteric coating. An enteric coating is used oftentimes to protect a medicine or supplement from stomach acid. In this case however there would be no benefit in the predigestion phase if the coating is used which means the supplement will only start working once the food gets to the intestines and do nothing in the stomach. The primary enzymes to look for when choosing a supplement are protease, amylase, lipase, lactase, glucoamylase, cellulose, hemicellulose, maltase and inverase. Taking a digestive enzyme supplement before meals has been found to help reduce problems with indigestion, heartburn, gas, bloating, food intolerances, and food allergies. People taking them also usually notice they have more physical and mental energy which is explained by the body being able to provide more energy that is not having to go into the digestive process. It is also recommended to drink sparingly at mealtimes as liquids diminish enzymes, cause more stomach acid and pepsin to be released and stress out the pancreas that is trying to compensate. Drinking water is definitely a healthy habit, but save it for in between meals.
There are two digestive enzyme supplements we prefer that are natural plant-based food enzymes that have the full spectrum of important key digestive enzymes needed and listed with FCC Units. As an added bonus they both have a touch of AFA bluegreen algae added in for important vitamins and minerals. The first contains sixteen food enzymes to help the body break down fats, carbohydrates, protein, and fiber, and is certified Kosher, Halal, Vegan, Gluten Free, Dairy Free, and GMO Free.
The second also has MycoPepsin, a protease enzyme, which has the ability to break down proteins under acid conditions similar to pepsin. MycoPepsin comes from the controlled fermentation of a non-genetically modified strain of Aspergillus niger. It has twelve active enzymes, bluegreen algae, fennel, ginger, and cayenne for extra digestive system support and is certified Kosher, Halal, Pleo, Vegan, Gluten Free, Dairy Free, and GMO Free.
Enzymes are essential to keep life going and to help us get the nutrition from our foods necessary for good health. Don’t let your diet slow you down. If you can’t get all the enzymes you need from the foods you eat, get a little help with a high quality digestive enzyme supplement, remembering to drink between meals not with them and by eating as many raw foods as you can each day.
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