Everyone is focused on what they eat, but what about how well they digest the food they eat? You may have a general idea of what digestive enzymes are, but have you considered the scope of their importance and the role they play for optimal overall health?
What Are They and What Do They Do?
Digestion doesn’t just take place in your stomach. It starts with a thought in your brain and then the signal reaches your Gastrointestinal tract (GIT) which starts making hormones and enzymes for digestion. These enzymes are produced in the mouth, stomach, small intestine, gall bladder and the pancreas. But these enzymes do not digest food – they digest nutrients.
Digestive enzymes are responsible for breaking down the food you eat to extract nutrients which are then converted to:
- Amino acids from proteins
- Fatty acids and cholesterol from fats
- Simple and complex sugars from carbohydrates
- And other vitamins, minerals and compounds.
This process is by no means a simple input-output system. Dozens of different enzymes work together along the GIT to break down the macronutrients from the foods you eat. These nutrients are then distributed to your tissues, organs and muscles.
As you can imagine, this complex exchange is responsible for the body’s access to fuel. But it doesn’t end there. Digestive enzymes affect factors in your daily life that are not often considered such as your:
You can eat all the healthy food in the world, but if you can’t absorb it, not even the healthiest of diets will do you any good. However, your body can only digest what it’s given. High fibre foods such as fruits and vegetables contain their own enzymes that work with your body’s digestive enzymes to break down foods faster and allow your body to access nutrients quickly for cell reparation and growth.
Luckily, enzyme production is versatile and can be tailored to the composition of food consumed. However, if a diet doesn’t include this pairing of essential enzymes, or if the body is unable to produce enough enzymes to promote healthy digestion and diverse microbial life, you run the risk of symptoms such as:
- Thyroid issues
- Lackluster hair, skin, and nails
- Mood swings
- And depression
This is why maintaining a healthy diet is imperative to support the intricate process of enzyme production.
Immune System Support
Studies have shown that the autoimmune system, which protects us from pathogens and harmful toxins in the environment, may owe its efficiency to digestive enzymes.
As humans have evolved, enzyme production has followed suit with microbial gut flora producing various enzymes to respond to different pathological and environmental threats. This line of defense allows the body to recognise and eliminate many dangers before they can infect the rest of the body.
The Aging Process
As we age, our ability to adapt to changes in our diet and nutrient absorption decreases. In some people, this can lead to chronic digestive ailments. Though enzymes are not solely responsible for the aging process, they play a large role in how nutrients reach the areas that need them in all stages of life.
Enzymes and Chronic Stress
Your enzymes could be telling you to slow down. Nowadays, most people are living with chronic stress, which limits the amount of enzymes your body can produce, as your brain attempts to eliminate the stressor before it can reengage in normal functions like digestion.
This is a helpful reminder to slow down.
When we can’t digest our food, we can’t provide our bodies with nutrients. Recurring bouts of anxiety can lead to indigestion and even pesky habits like comfort eating and snacking. As obesity levels skyrocket, it is easy to see how a simple change like sitting down for meals and eating mindfully could provide a fulfilling way to destress and allow our enzymes to provide our bodies with much needed nutrients.
Things you can do to increase production of your digestive enzymes:
- Chew your food thoroughly. This breaks down your food so that it becomes easier to digest when it reaches your stomach. Chewing also produces more saliva which is a rich source of enzymes.
- Drink water first thing in the morning. The correct way to drink water so as to get as many enzymes in your body as possible is to subtly work the water in your mouth (as though you are cleansing your mouth with mouthwash) before swallowing it.
- Supplement your normal diet with foods that also offer large amounts of digestive enzymes. Sprouted seeds and legumes, soaked nuts, pawpaw, pineapple, mango and kiwi all serve as a significant source of digestive enzymes. Avocado, raw honey, coconut oil and raw dairy products are other quality sources.
- Time to relax. Digestion takes place when you are relaxed, hence the term “rest and digest.” If your mind is constantly agitated then your body is in a constant state of fight-or-flight. This type of stress prevents your stomach from efficiently producing stomach acid and digestive enzymes. Take up stress-relieving techniques such as meditation and yoga to help soothe your soul.
- Remove foods. If you don’t have a specific enzyme deficiency (you can find out by having your poop tested), or your symptoms are more of a nuisance than severe, then aim to remove any foods from your diet that are causing digestive distress.
So, remember to take care of your enzymes so that they can take care of you.
Medical Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. For medical advice always consult your physician. The information provided in this blog is based on the best knowledge of the author at the time of writing and we do not assume liability for the information within this blog, be it direct or indirect, consequential, special, exemplary or other damages.