Food Enzymes - Catalysts of Health

Enzymes are complex protein compounds that speed up biochemical processes. Without enzymes, the functioning of the body is impossible. Digestive enzymes break down incoming food into low-molecular chemical compounds that penetrate the intestinal walls into the bloodstream to provide all human systems with energy and participate in other vital processes. There are many different types of these enzymes produced in the body itself, and each plays an important role in the digestion of food. Let's have a look at some of them:

  • amylase - the first enzyme discovered by science. It is secreted by the salivary glands and pancreas and begins to break down complex carbohydrates already in the oral cavity. As the saying goes: “The better you chew, the longer you live!”
  • If starch and sugar do not have time to be sufficiently processed by amylase, they will enter the large intestine and can cause flatulence and become a breeding ground for fungi from the Candida family, excessive reproduction of which causes an infectious disease, candidiasis.
  • lipase - is synthesized by the pancreas and enters the duodenum and small intestine, where it promotes the breakdown of fats. With lipase deficiency, fat particles reach the large intestine and irritate its walls, which can lead to bloating, pain, and problems with emptying (irritable bowel syndrome).
  • proteases - enzymes necessary for the breakdown of proteins produced by the stomach and pancreas. The lack of proteases may result in unsplit proteins enter the large intestine, negatively affecting the balance of its microflora and provoking dysbacteriosis - an increase in the number of pathogenic, and a decrease in the concentration of beneficial microorganisms.
  • lactase is an enzyme produced in the small intestine that converts lactose (milk sugar) into simple sugars, glucose and galactose for absorption into blood. If there is not enough lactase, milk sugar is decomposed in the microflora of the large intestine, which can cause abdominal cramps and diarrhea.
  • sucrase - a group of enzymes that accelerate the breakdown of sucrose molecules into their constituents - glucose and fructose, which are absorbed by the body. Sucrase is synthesized in the mucosa of the small intestine and pancreas.

Digestive Enzyme Deficiency

A healthy body produces as many enzymes as necessary for the complete and proper digestion of food. However, if the balance between the body's needs for enzymes and their actual synthesis is disturbed, the whole process of digestion is upset, and the body does not receive all the necessary nutrients.

The main reasons for the lack of digestive enzymes are as follows:

  •  congenital deficiency of sucrase;
  •  exocrine insufficiency (partial or complete loss of exocrine function) of the pancreas, its inflammation (pancreatitis);
  •  gastritis, leading to a decrease in the secretory function of the stomach;
  •  inflammation of the intestinal mucosa;
  •  diseases of the liver and biliary tract;
  •  overeating - enzymes can not cope with too much food.

Pancreatic enzyme deficiency can be caused by:

  •  chronic pancreatitis and other diseases of this organ;
  •  side effects from the use of certain drugs;
  •  cystic fibrosis - a hereditary disease of the glands of external secretion;
  •  operations on the organs of the gastrointestinal tract (GIT);
  •  deficiency of bile.

Diagnosis of insufficiency of digestive enzymes requires complex laboratory studies of the body. We emphasize the main symptoms that you should pay attention to, and, if necessary, consult a doctor:

  •  bloating;
  •  diarrhea;
  •  heartburn, nausea after eating;
  •  unpleasant taste in the mouth, belching;
  •  increasing weakness, weight loss;
  •  anemia.

Such signs of disturbances in the functioning of the gastrointestinal tract may indicate not only a probable deficiency of enzymes, but also other possible diseases of the digestive system. They can only be diagnosed by a doctor after conducting the necessary studies and tests.

Replenishing Sources for Enzyme Deficiency 

Many foods contain digestive enzymes. Let's pay attention to some of them:

  •  avocado - contains lipase;
  •  bananas - amylase and glucosidase;
  •  pineapples - bromelain;
  •  mango - amylase;
  •  kefir - amylase, lactase and protease;
  •  honey - amylase, invertase and protease

Heat treatment, conservation or long-term storage destroy enzymes, so products containing them must be consumed raw in their natural form.

However, not all experts are unanimous in their opinion that a diet rich in enzymes significantly improves the functioning of the digestive system. In particular, Morgan Denhard, a nutritionist at Johns Hopkins Medicine (USA), says, “There is no real evidence that foods rich in enzymes help digestion.” She suggests including more raw vegetables, fruits and cereals in the menu, and not to eat fatty, overly processed foods, especially fried and smoked. “It is much more likely that someone will have gastrointestinal irritation due to unhealthy food than due to enzyme deficiencies,” says the expert.

Replacement Therapy for Dietary Enzyme Deficiency

Treatment is necessary if a comprehensive diagnosis has confirmed a deficiency of digestive enzymes. First of all, the causes of enzyme deficiency should be identified. Only a doctor, who takes into account all the individual characteristics of the patient's body, can prescribe medication and choose a therapy plan. A prerequisite for recovery in this case is proper nutrition and strict adherence to a diet specially designed for each patient.

In the United States, pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT) is most commonly used. This drug contains amylase, lipase and protease, and is available by prescription, and is controlled by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

There are a number of over-the-counter digestive enzyme supplements that can help manage bloating, acid reflux, and diarrhea, but they are not a substitute for a balanced diet. Morgan Denhard notes that these supplements are not regulated by the FDA, they do not guarantee the composition and concentration of enzymes in them, and their side effects are not studied.

The nutritionist warns against self-administration of such drugs, “A healthy person does not need to take digestive enzyme supplements. The best digestive enzymes are those that our bodies produce.”