If you have recently seen a functional physician, nutritionist, dietitian or have been keeping up with the latest health news—you have surely heard of digestive enzymes. Often recommended to aid with ailments such as heartburn, nausea, reflux, or other digestive difficulties, enzymes in their various forms have helped many tolerate foods they once avoided. What I want to tell you about today, however, is that digestive enzymes can do so much more than replace the antacids in your cabinet. To explain, let’s dive into the science behindabout exactly what enzymes are.
Enzymes are proteins that catalyze the chemical reactions in our bodies. At any given second, our bodies are performing thousands of chemical reactions— with the help of enzymes. These reactions make up what’s known as metabolism. From converting foods to energy, to cleaning the blood, to ridding the body of toxic waste—enzymes are responsible for our energy levels, our health, and our lives in general.
Digestive enzymes break food down into substances our bodies can absorb and utilize. That’s right—if you are lacking enzymes, the healthy and wonderful foods you put into your body might not be doing as much good as they potentially can. Conversely, the not-so-nutritious foods will not fully break down or leave your system efficiently, and what’s leftover can wreak havoc on your health. Partially digested proteins, carbohydrates, and fats essentially rot in the digestive system, leading to a wide array of health issues, including headache and fatigue, autoimmune disease, heart disease, and all those uncomfortable digestive issues—heartburn, bloating, nausea, constipation, and more.
Since our bodies produce digestive enzymes on their own, why would we need to worry about this?
It’s true—our bodies are capable of incredible things, including producing enzymes on their own. Due to our modern diets, however, almost all of us are lacking in enzymes that keep our bodies working as efficiently as possible. Dr. Edward Howell illustrates this in his book “Enzyme Nutrition” by explaining that early humans could only eat raw food, which is enzymatically alive, meaning they possess enzymes that do their own digesting. This diet left the human body responsible for only about half of the required enzymatic reactions for breaking down, absorbing, and utilizing. Today’s processed food and even cooked food diets are not enzymatically alive, leaving our bodies responsible for 100% of the work. Over time, a diet of mainly processed, manufactured, and heated food leaves the body overworked and underpaid—and seriously lacking in enzymes!
Luckily, there are ways to improve digestion and increase enzyme activity without having to forgo hot dinners and minimally processed food. One of the easiest and cheapest ways is to CHEW! It may seem obvious, but it is so easy to get caught up in life—speeding through breakfast and eating lunch on the go— I’ve been there. I now know it is vital to prioritize mealtime and assure you are thoroughly chewing each bite. Every time you chew, you ensure the amylase in your saliva (yes, enzymes and digestion begin in the mouth!) mixes with your food and enables the digestion process to start off strong.
The other way to improve digestion, and therefore your overall health? You guessed it—adding a digestive enzyme into your regimen. A quality digestive enzyme should include the following:
- Amylase: Breaks carbohydrates down into sugars
- Protease: Breaks proteins down into amino acids
- Cellulase: Assists in fiber breakdown for absorption
- Lipase: Breaks fats down into essential fatty acids and triglycerides
- Lactase: Allows for healthy dairy digestion and utilization
Depending on the brand, enzymes can be taken with each meal, or in the morning on an empty stomach. Doing so takes so much strain off your organs and immune system and decreases your toxic load immensely. This, in turn, can lead to increased energy, loss of excess weight, a slower aging process, and a healthier, happier you. My personal favorite is Enzymendica’s Digest Gold ATPro.
Keep in mind that even though you may not suffer from digestive issues, it does not mean you have adequate enzyme activity working in your system. Sometimes, deficiencies go unnoticed, causing chronic problems down the line. Maintaining a healthy diet isn’t enough on its own—it’s all about how well you absorb that healthy diet.
Managing stress, avoiding chewing gum, and upping your intake of raw foods are all ways to support those incredible enzymes and improve digestion. For more advice on healthy digestion and overall wellness, book a one-on-one with me!