The second part of our healthy digestion tune-up, are enzymes. Enzymes are “chemically active proteins that enhance reactions between other substances”. Whether that happens in a chemistry lab, or within our bodies, that’s what enzymes do… by acting as catalysts and making things happen. Our bodies use enzymes for many different things, including speeding up digestion.
Mom was right
Mom always told us to spend more time chewing our food. It turns out that digestive enzymes are produced by our salivary glands while we chew our food, then these busy enzyme workers keep at it in our stomach, small intestine and pancreas… aiding in the breakdown of fats, carbohydrates and proteins.
For various reasons, there are times when our bodies don’t produce sufficient quantities of the enzymes needed. Such a condition can result in incomplete digestion. What happens then is really no surprise. Undigested carbohydrates ferment, proteins putrefy, and fats become rancid. Research has also indicated that low enzyme levels are connected with lower energy and susceptibility to illness. We feel sluggish, bloated, and ill at ease.
It follows that incomplete digestion can result in a myriad of symptoms. An insufficiency of the digestive enzyme lactase, can result in a person suffering lactose intolerance, with symptoms of gas, bloating, cramping and diarrhea.
Incomplete digestion of proteins can result in the presence of toxic compounds called “polyamines”. Some polyamines have been implicated in the loss of cell growth regulation, seen in cancerous tumours.
And when fats are not fully digested, one of the symptoms is diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration, and other problems.
In short, incomplete digestion can lead to great distress in our gastro-intestinal tract, with symptoms such as gas, bloating, cramps, constipation, diarrhea, and fluid retention. Some of these symptoms are known to promote secondary conditions such as internal fissures and hemorrhoids.
Do I need supplemental enzymes?
Nature has it all worked out. Uncooked foods already contain enough food enzymes to digest that food. But since we are not able, nor are we accustomed, to eat all our food raw, we may come up short of enough enzymes to process our daily intake. Since the high temperatures of cooking foods will destroy the enzymes in those foods, that is where the body will try to compensate. As we mentioned, much of the required enzymes will be produced by the salivary glands in the mouth while other enzymes are produced in the stomach. Yet, a person who suffers from stomach issues may have a shortfall of digestive enzymes and could benefit from dietary supplements. There is a wide range of digestive enzyme supplements available on the market. If you consider taking enzyme supplements, choose one that is ‘broad spectrum’ and provides support for digestion of proteins, fats and carbohydrates (protease, amylase and lipase).