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Digestive Enzymes: What Are They, and Why Do You Need Them?

If you’ve ever wondered, “What are digestive enzymes?” you’re in luck! This comprehensive guide covers what digestive enzymes are and why we need them.  


About 10% of the total calories you consume are expended on digesting, metabolizing, and eliminating. So if you eat 2,000 calories per day, approximately 200 of them will be used to digest your food, metabolize energy from it, and eliminate waste products. Digesting is hard work! Sometimes, your body needs a little help digesting the food it eats. Digestive enzymes can provide that help. If you’re wondering, “What are digestive enzymes?” Keep reading to learn what they are and why we need them. 


What Are Digestive Enzymes? 


Digestive enzymes are essential for breaking down and absorbing nutrients from the foods we eat. There are different types of digestive enzymes that are naturally produced by the body. Here are the four main digestive enzymes and what they do:


  1. Amylase: This type of digestive enzyme breaks down carbohydrates into sugars that our bodies can use as energy. Our bodies naturally produce amylase, but some people may produce insufficient amounts of this important digestive enzyme. Low amylase levels are linked to an increased risk of metabolic syndrome. 
  2. Lipase: We need lipase to properly digest fats. Lipase is released by the pancreas and is necessary to break fats down into fatty acid molecules that are small enough to be absorbed by our small intestine. 
  3. Gelatinase: This type of enzyme helps us break down gelatin. Gelatin is found in some types of desserts as well as in the connective tissue of animals. When we eat meat, we need gelatinase to help us break down the connective tissue within the meat. 
  4. Protease: Without protease, we would be unable to absorb proteins from the foods we eat. Our bodies rely heavily on proteins to function properly, so it’s important that we have enough protease and proteolytic enzymes to help us break down proteins properly. 

There are also other classes of digestive enzymes that help us absorb nutrients from the foods we eat. They include lactase (which breaks down the lactose in milk and dairy products) and sucrase (which breaks down sucrose in different foods we consume). 


Why Do We Need Digestive Enzymes?


Digestive enzymes are important for gut health. If we have insufficient enzymes in our digestive systems, our bodies will struggle to absorb nutrients from our food. Pancreatic enzymes help us break down the main macronutrients we require for energy and to support various bodily functions. 


Unfortunately, the human body naturally produces fewer digestive enzymes as it ages. That’s part of the reason why many elderly adults have trouble getting sufficient nutrients from the foods they eat. As enzyme production slows down, various GI symptoms and food intolerances can develop. 


What Are Common Digestive Problems?


There are many different digestive problems people experience. Many of them can be traced back to insufficient digestive enzyme production. Enzyme supplementation may help relieve symptoms of pancreatic insufficiency (which is a fancy term for a lack of digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas). Enzymes and supplements can work together to support healthy digestion and relieve bloating, stomach pain, and other common digestive issues. 


Irritable Bowel Syndrome


Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a common disorder that can cause bloating, abdominal pain, gas, and diarrhea or constipation. There are foods for constipation that may help reduce symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (such as yogurt, prunes, flaxseed oil, fermented food and drinks, and chia seeds).


Irritable Bowel Syndrome may be caused in part by a digestive enzyme deficiency. If enzyme production is insufficient to break down foods effectively, they can ferment in the stomach and cause various symptoms throughout the rest of the digestive tract. 


Some people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome may respond well to digestive enzyme supplements. A hydrochloric acid dietary supplement may also help balance out the stomach acid and improve digestion. 


Lactose Intolerance


Lactose intolerance often occurs because there is a shortage of lactase production in the small intestine. People who have lactose intolerance generally don’t have enough lactase to effectively break down the lactose found in milk and milk products. Lactose is found in a lot of different foods. Even mashed potatoes can have lactose in them, depending on how they’re made. That’s why it’s important to look carefully at labels if you have lactose intolerance. 


By law, foods containing lactose must indicate it on the product label. Common symptoms of lactose intolerance include stomach pain, bloating, diarrhea, and vomiting. 


Celiac Disease


Celiac disease can be triggered by gluten, which is a protein found in certain grains. It is both a digestive and autoimmune disorder and can be life-threatening. People with this digestive problem may experience bloating, diarrhea, gas, growth issues, and anemia. Taking a supplemental digestive enzyme may help people with celiac disease experience improved gut health. But due to the serious nature of this condition, it’s important to seek help from a qualified medical professional. 


Chronic Pancreatitis


Chronic pancreatitis is a very painful condition marked by severe pain in the abdomen, nausea, chills or fever, vomiting, yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes, and a fast heartbeat. Heavy alcohol consumption is the primary cause of this condition. But there is a link between chronic pancreatitis and pancreatic insufficiency.


Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency


This condition occurs when the pancreas makes an insufficient number of the enzymes required to digest food in the small intestine. Pancreatic insufficiency is a common cause of malabsorption and maldigestion. It is very important to seek treatment for pancreatic insufficiency, as this condition can cause poor quality of life and poses a serious risk for malnutrition. 


Fixing these common digestive problems may not always be as simple as taking a digestive enzyme supplement. But giving your body the best digestive enzyme support possible can help make nutrient absorption a bit easier. 


How Can We Naturally Improve Our Digestion?


Here are a few of our favorite ways to improve digestion naturally:


  • Take probiotics
  • Drink at least 8 cups of water per day
  • Get at least 20 minutes of exercise every day
  • Increase fiber intake
  • Eat mindfully and try to consume plenty of whole foods
  • Take digestive enzyme supplements
  • Drink bone broth regularly
  • Avoid alcohol and cigarettes

To prevent indigestion during and after exercise, avoid eating for at least an hour before your workout. Or, you may choose to eat after your workout to avoid abdominal discomfort. 


What Foods Have Digestive Enzymes?


If you want to make digestion easier for your body, choose to eat these foods for digestive enzymes


  • Pineapple
  • Honey
  • Mango
  • Papaya
  • Avocado
  • Banana
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kefir
  • Kiwi
  • Miso
  • Ginger
  • Kimchi

These foods contain a variety of digestive enzymes that can help your body do its job more efficiently. 


What Are the Best Digestive Enzyme Supplements?


There are many different digestive enzyme supplements out there, including Onnit Total Gut Health, Active Enzyme, and Vital Plan Active Enzymes. The problem with most digestive enzyme supplements is that they leave a foul taste in your mouth after you consume them. Hergreens is different. It’s a healthy digestive support supplement that actually tastes good. It’s also full of gut-supporting ingredients. 


How Can Hergreens Help My Digestion?


Hergreens contains five different digestive enzymes (amylase, lactase, protease, lipase, and cellulase) to help your body absorb nutrients from many different types of foods. In addition to these digestive enzymes, you’ll also find a highly-nutritious organic greens blend in every single-serving pack of Hergreens. These greens (including alfalfa, broccoli, cabbage, and kale) contain dietary fiber and nutrients designed to provide you with optimal gut health. 


A healthy gut is an important component of overall health. Learn more about how to care for your body and your mind by visiting Mixhers resources.