Digestive enzymes aid in the digestion of the foods we eat. They are found throughout our digestive system-in the mouth, in the stomach and in other places along our digestive track. What these enzymes do is breakdown food into fuel that our bodies can use. There are seven basic types of enzymes-with each having various sub-classifications and serving different functions. The primary types of enzymes involved in the digestive process include protease (for digesting proteins), amylase (for digesting carbohydrates) and lipase (for digesting fats).
Digestive enzyme supplementation has been getting a lot of buzz lately. The rationale for its evolution is threefold: First, though our bodies produce digestive enzymes naturally (we get them from foods too), it is thought that our modern diets-which are often full of refined sugars, saturated fats and empty calories-stress our systems to the point that they don't function properly. Second, most of the foods we eat are processed to the point that the naturally-occurring digestive enzymes that would normally be present are diminished or eradicated entirely. And finally, it is thought that as we age, our bodies produce fewer natural digestive enzymes.
Proponents of digestive enzyme therapy say that because of these three conditions, enzyme deficiencies result in not only our inability to eat certain foods (like spicy foods) but also in build-ups of toxins and undigested foods in our digestive track.
They say that this leads to the development of various health problems and illnesses including bloating, gas, heartburn, indigestion, acid reflux, bowel problems, food allergies or intolerances, cramping, weight gain and more.
The theory is that we need to restore our bodies' digestive enzyme natural balance in order to alleviate the problems associated with the deficiencies.
Some nutritionists say that eating more raw foods is one effective way to eliminate these deficiencies. All raw foods contain enzymes, many of which-provided the food is not cooked, heated, processed or irradiated above 118 degrees-will convert to digestive enzymes in our bodies. For the average person though, this is easier said than done-it's just not always practical or realistic to eat raw foods all the time.
Otherwise, taking digestive enzyme supplements is seen as a means to treat these conditions and restore the natural balance in the body. Digestive enzyme supplements can come from both natural and pharmaceutical sources.
Natural sources of digestive enzymes include animals (like from the pancreas of a pig) and plants (papayas, pineapples, figs and others). Unless a person is being treated for a specific, identified enzyme deficiency, most supplements contain a blend of different enzymes along with herbs, vitamins and/or minerals. They are usually taken in tablet form.
Now on to the big question: Does digestive enzyme supplementation really help? Well, the answer to that question is maybe-it all depends. Crappy answer, right? Not really because some studies have shown that digestive enzyme supplementation can be effective for persons who are suffering from certain conditions related to particular enzyme deficiencies. And there are plenty of people who swear by them. They take them faithfully and say that they definitely have noticed improvements in not just the related conditions, but in their overall health as well.
On the other hand though, if your digestive system functions well-that is to say, you don't have any identified problems or conditions, then your results may not be so obvious. Because your system is functioning as it should be, any benefits that you obtain from digestive enzyme supplementation might be more difficult for you to notice more so than in the case of a person who is suffering from a particular condition.
The fact is that the whole idea of taking digestive enzyme supplements is still relatively uncharted territory, so the answers are always so clear. If you notice that you are afflicted with any of the conditions mentioned above, then a regimen of digestive enzyme supplements might be just what you need to alleviate the problem. And if you don't have any of those symptoms or just aren't sure, you might want to go ahead and give it a try as well-maybe for a month or two to see if you notice any difference.
Unless you are taking diabetes medications or certain blood thinners, there have not been any reported problems from taking digestive enzyme supplements, so there shouldn't be any harm in taking them. However, you should always err on the side of caution and consult your doctor before starting any supplementation regimen just to be sure that you don't have any conditions that could potentially put you at risk.