Most people realize, at least to some degree, the importance of eating a good diet. Our bodies need good raw materials to complete the most important metabolic processes. With nutrition, our bodies form new cells, dispose of toxins, and repair damaged tissue. Even if we're eating all the right things, can our bodies make use of them? You aren’t made up of what you eat, you are made of what you absorb. So, what impairs our absorption of nutrients? Low stomach acid, inadequate digestive enzymes, aging, anti-nutrients in food, and even excess fiber can keep us from absorbing what we need from our diets.
First, we must manage any GI disorders or diseases. We must ensure our diets are as nutrient dense as possible. If indigestion is still present, a digestive enzyme supplement may help.
What is a Digestive Enzyme?
To understand how a digestive enzyme supplement can help us absorb the nutrients from the foods we are eating, let’s look at what a digestive enzyme is.
Enzymes in general are proteins in our bodies that help catalyze biological reactions. We produce over 75,000 enzymes. Some enzymes help us break down toxins. Others help our cells replicate our DNA. Our digestive enzymes help us break down large, complex food molecules into smaller, simpler molecules for the rest of our cells to use.
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When our enzymes are working properly, we produce adequate levels to get the best nutrients from the foods we eat. However, many factors can impact the amount of enzymes we produce and the activation of those enzymes.
What affects Digestive Enzyme Levels?
Body pH levels
Enzymes are pH dependent. Low stomach acid can decrease the amount of active enzymes we have. Enzymes like pepsin rely on the acidity of our stomach acid to function properly. Many people experience reflux because they do not have enough stomach acid to digest food. That means, our food doesn't move into the intestines at a normal pace.
Without enough stomach acid, the pH of our digestive tract gets thrown off. Enzymes are only active when they are at the proper pH. This low stomach acid lowers the amount of active enzymes we have available for digestion. So, without enough stomach acid or enzymes to break it down, food has more time to sit in the stomach. That pushes food back up on the lower esophageal sphincter causing reflux. Or food sits in the intestines, causing discomfort from bloating, gas, and constipation.
Another factor that can affect digestive enzyme levels is age. As we age, our level of both enzymes and stomach acid declines, so our digestion takes a double hit. When digestion slows in an elderly person, their appetite often declines. Decreased appetite leads to a lower intake of nutritionally dense foods like lean meats, fruits, and vegetables. It also leads to a higher intake of rapidly digesting, processed foods with little nutritional value. This sluggish digestion and poor intake is especially harmful for elderly people who are already at risk for conditions like muscle wasting, bone fractures, and general malnutrition.
Enzyme Supplements may be good for food intolerances, like lactose intolerance. Some individuals with food intolerances don’t produce enough of a specific type of enzyme. That causes them to experience GI distress when exposed to the food or food group that the enzyme they are missing is programmed to break down. So, in this case, a supplement with the right enzyme can provide some relief.
Choosing the Right Digestive Enzyme Supplements
If you experience general indigestion, have gastric reflux due to low stomach acid, or you find that as you have gotten older your digestion hasn’t been what it used to be, we know a digestive enzyme supplement might be able to help you. So, how do you go about choosing one?
While there are countless over-the-counter enzyme supplements on the market, you don’t want to go out and grab the first one. Here are the qualities we want to evaluate in digestive enzyme supplements:
- Does it contain what it says it contains?
- Is it an effective dose?
- Will the enzymes be active at the appropriate time in your digestive process?
- Will the enzymes work with the various pH ranges within your GI tract?
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Our Digestive Enzyme Supplement Recommendation
One brand that meets all of these criteria is Enzymedica. They offer products to help with general indigestion or specific food intolerances. Their broad spectrum digestive enzyme supplement also comes in two strengths. That means you can tailor the dose based on your individual needs. Most importantly, they have a process that is exclusive to their company called Thera-Blend that combines the enzymes together in a way that allows them to release at the specific time during digestion that they are needed.
As previously discussed, enzyme activity is very much dependent upon each enzyme having the proper pH. If an enzyme is not in an environment with the appropriate pH range for that enzyme, it cannot do its job. Enzymedica blends their enzymes in a way that allows each strain to be released and utilized at the proper time during digestion and at the right pH, so you can trust that you are getting an effective product.
A digestive enzyme supplement will not solve digestive issues alone. However, it can help increase nutrient absorption and provide some relief from indigestion. Your first line of defense against gastro-intestinal complaints is addressing underlying issues and assessing diet. If you think you might benefit from a digestive enzyme supplement, make sure you are doing your homework. You want to buy the highest quality possible. As always, feel free to come in and talk with us at Nutrition World. Our nutrition experts are here to help you with questions about digestive enzyme supplements.
Nutrition World is your Chattanooga partner on your wellness journey since 1979.