Digestive Enzymes

ripe fruit
Enzymes found in fruit help digestion.

Throughout the human digestive tract, digestive enzymes break down chemical components of food and assist in the digestive process. When digestive enzymes are lacking, stomach problems often result. Some nutritionists recommend taking digestive enzymes to help with gas, bloating, stomach problems and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). You can also increase your intake of enzymes by eating more raw, living, uncooked foods.

An Overview of Digestive Enzymes

An enzyme is a chemical substance that acts as a catalyst, or changes the rate of a chemical reaction. Within the human body, dozens of enzymes work in different ways to break down fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Enzymes are produced and used in the mouth through the actions of the salivary glands, in the stomach, by the pancreas, and in the intestines. We're born with enzymes, we manufacture enzymes, and we get enzymes through raw, uncooked foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables.

The digestion of food creates energy. Food digestion breaks big items such as an apple into smaller components that can be shuttled into the cells. Take a bite of an apple. The salivary glands activate, breaking down some of the carbohydrates, while the teeth mechanically break the apple down into a slushy mix that passes into the stomach. Enzymes throughout the rest of the digestive system take the apple and transform it into its base components; fructose, for example, becomes the simple sugar glucose that can be used by the brain and other organs for energy. Without enzymes, the body would not be able to transforms the apple thoroughly.

Digestive Supplements

Many nutritionist suggest digestive enzymes for clients who report digestive disturbances, such as gas, bloating, stomach pain, constipation and diarrhea. In addition to probiotic supplements, a regimen of digestive enzyme supplements taken with meals can supply enzymes that for some reason the body either isn't producing or is not producing in sufficient quantities to effectively break down food.Examples of enzyme supplements include:

  • Papaya supplements: Papaya is an orange colored tropical fruit that's rich in digestive enzymes. It may be hard to find ripe papaya at the grocery store, and eating enough papaya with every meal to enhance digestion could be difficult. The active enzyme in papaya is Papain. Papaya enzymes are thought to help digestion of meat and animal products. If you get gas, bloating or stomach problems after eating a meat-based meal, consider a papaya supplement.
  • Pineapple/Bromelain: Found naturally in pineapples, bromelain also helps digestion. Bromelain is an enzyme that helps with the digestion of proteins, so it's also useful if you have problems digesting meat or other protein-rich foods. Interestingly enough, bromelain also acts as an anti-inflammatory agent, and supplements containing bromelain are often recommended to people with arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.
  • Mixed digestive enzymes: Many tablets and supplements contain a mixture of Papain and Bromelain along with various other digestive enzymes.

Safety and Contraindications

Enzyme supplements are relatively safe to use. Follow the label directions for any supplements. Discontinue use if rash or an allergic reaction develops. While it's unusual to be allergic to an enzyme, supplements can contain fillers or additives that can cause allergic reactions. Always consult your doctor with any health questions.

The Case for Eating More Living Foods

While you can take enzyme supplementss to help with stomach problems, there's an easier way. Eat more raw, living foods at every meal. While a strict raw, vegan diet isn't right for everyone, eating fresh pineapple, snacking on fresh fruit, and including a rich green salad with your lunch or dinner ensures plenty of natural digestive enzymes along with vitamins, minerals and fiber. If you don't like to eat a lot of fresh fruit or vegetables, consider a smoothie. As long as it's not packed with added sugar, a fruit or green smoothie can provide plenty of nutrients and enzymes.

Digestive Enzymes