Friday, May 15, 2009

Enzymes: Key to Digestive Health

Enzymes are catalysts of chemical reactions. This means that they initiate and increase the rate of one or several body processes. Without enzymes, reactions in the body would take place too slowly to maintain life. Digestive enzymes are responsible for breaking down food particles so that they can be absorbed in the intestinal tract and either used for energy or stored for later use.

There are three main categories of digestive enzymes, amylase, protease and lipase. Amylase enzymes digest sugars, for example, like milk sugar is digested by lactase and cane sugar by sucrase. Amylase is found in saliva, pancreatic juice and intestinal juice. Proteases are responsible for breaking down protein. It is found in intestinal and pancreatic juice. Lipases digest fat and are released in the stomach and intestines.

Enzymes naturally occur in all raw foods. When referring to the “ripeness” of a food we are talking about its readiness to be eaten. Ripe foods are most abundant in enzymes that are used for digestion. Rancid foods are already being digested by the naturally occurring enzymes. Unfortunately enzymes are destroyed by the cooking and processing of foods. This means that most of the foods the average person consumes are deficient in enzymes. The body must do all of the work to digest the food or, more commonly, foods are improperly digested. The term “leaky gut” is used to describe undigested protein particles that get into the bloodstream and cause allergic reactions. This is one reason why digestive enzyme supplements can improve lots of health complaints. They are widely recommended by natural health practitioners for indigestion, gas, bloating, arthritis, autoimmune disorders, food allergies and skin conditions.

There are many commercial digestive enzyme preparations, each with a unique mix of enzymes. Choose a supplement that contains enzymes for the type of nutrient, or nutrients, you have trouble digesting. There are vegetarian and animal source supplements. Digestive enzymes can be in tablets, capsules, liquid or powder form. Each type of enzyme has different units of strength, and unfortunately there is no standardization with regard to which units are used on the product label, making it difficult for the consumer to judge the potency of enzyme supplements.

Enzyme supplements may contain betaine HCl, to increase stomach acid and facilitate the workings of the enzymes, or ox bile, to digest fats.Do not take digestive enzymes if you are pregnant or nursing. Do not use digestive enzymes if you have active bleeding, blood disorders or if you use blood thinners. Discontinue digestive enzymes 2 weeks prior to dental work or surgery.

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