If they tell you to trust your gut, they may be talking about your intuition or natural instincts. But if they’re speaking health-wise, in order to trust your gut, you need to be taking care of it. Take care of your gut and you’re taking care of your whole body. The digestive system is the cornerstone for proper function of the rest of the body. If one small thing goes out of whack in the gut, it can throw off the rest of the operation.
Digestive enzymes are getting a lot of buzz in the supplementation world these days, and it’s not all just hype. They can have some pretty incredible benefits for people suffering from certain medical conditions, those sticking to specific diets and those just looking to keep themselves healthy. Here’s the scoop on digestive enzymes and how to use them to meet your goals.
What Digestive Enzymes Are
Digestive enzymes have snuck into multivitamins and are currently touted as the miracle cure for food sensitivities. But for all of their accolades, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of information about what digestive enzymes actually are. In their simplest terms, “digestive enzymes” is pretty self-explanatory – they’re enzymes for digestion. No kidding. But there’s a lot more to them than that.
“Digestive enzymes are complex proteins involved in digestion that stimulate chemical changes in other substances,” according to the University of Michigan. They’re responsible for the chemical breakdown of food into sufficiently small components that can be absorbed into the blood from the digestive system. Starting in the mouth, then in the stomach and small intestine, our bodies naturally produce several different enzymes that aid in the digestive process, according to the U.S. News & World Report.
There are three main classifications of digestive enzymes. Proteolytic enzymes are needed to digest protein, lipases are necessary to digest fat and you couldn’t digest carbohydrates without amylases. Our bodies also produce disaccharidases, which are enzymes that break down bonds between the double sugar molecules in table sugar (sucrose) and milk sugar (lactose). This separates them into two individual sugar molecules that your body can handle.
How Digestive Enzymes Are Different Than Probiotics
Don’t confuse digestive enzymes with probiotics, though. One of the key differences here is that probiotics are alive. According to LiveStrong, probiotics are typically bacteria or yeast cells that are living in the gut, helping digestion go smoothly. Digestive enzymes aren’t alive. They’re essentially proteins produced by your cells to aid in the digestion and absorption of food.
They also do different things in your system. Digestive enzymes are responsible for breaking down large nutritional molecules, like protein, carbs and fats, into smaller molecules that the body can actually use. Because of digestive enzymes, carbohydrates become manageable monosaccharides, proteins are transformed into amino acids and fats are split into two fatty acids and monoacylglycerol.
Probiotics, because their species are so varied, do a lot of different things in the digestive tract. They aid in vitamin and mineral absorption, help alleviate lactose intolerance and produce vitamin K. What they don’t do is break food molecules down. That’s all enzymes.
What Digestive Enzyme Supplements Do
Digestive enzyme supplements are used to treat a host of medical conditions. According to the University of Michigan, digestive enzyme supplements can be helpful in managing everything from back pain and tendinitis to Crohn’s disease and pancreatic insufficiency. If, for some reason, you body is not producing enough digestive enzymes to manage the digestion process, a supplement can boost your enzyme levels and help your digestive system function more efficiently.
This is especially important in cases of diseases of the digestive tract. Things like Crohn’s disease and celiac disease can be, in part, managed by digestive enzyme supplements. Celiac disease, despite its sudden uptick, isn’t just an excuse for avoiding gluten. It’s a medical condition in which the pancreas often fails to produce adequate secretions of digestive enzymes. According to the University of Michigan, in a double-blind trial, children with celiac disease who took a pancreatic enzyme and avoided gluten gained significantly more weight in the first month than kids who just stayed gluten free. After the second month, the benefit waned, however.
Lower back pain can also be relieved by digestive enzyme supplements. “Supplementing with a combination of the enzymes trypsin and chymotrypsin may improve low back pain,” says the University of Michigan. Three double-blind trials have examined the effects of enzyme supplementation for seven to 10 days on relieving lower back pain. One trial found small but statistically significant improvements in pain for some people with degenerative arthritis of the lower spine. Another trial noted improvement in pain for people with sciatica-type leg pain.
Why You Should Consider Adding Digestive Enzyme Supplements To Your Routine
Even if you’re not suffering from a medical condition that could be helped by taking digestive enzyme supplements, they’re still worth considering adding to your regular supplementation routine – especially if you’re vegetarian, vegan or eating some other type of high-fiber diet. According to the U.S. News & World Report, folks who rely heavily on beans and tons of veggies as a large part of their diet might benefit from an enzyme supplement to help digestion. The most common? Plain old Beano. Yep, Beano, often associated with a weird flatulent relative who’s always proudly reaching for their bottle as they make a joke about beans, is a digestive enzyme product that contains alpha-galactosidase, which helps to break down the type of fiber found in beans and veggies that can make you gassy, like cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. By supplementing with Beano or an equivalent, vegans and vegetarians can help reduce gas pressure and its forced, ahem, expulsion.
If you’re looking to pack on muscle, a digestive enzyme supplement may benefit you as well. To build muscle, you need to properly absorb the nutrients of the food you’re eating. Simple as that. Digestive enzymes can make sure this is happening and help to fill in any nutritional gaps by getting the most out of your diet. It can help you turn protein into usable muscle-building blocks, too. “Supplementing your current diet with digestive enzymes is the best way to get optimal muscle gains without turning to chemical enhancement,” according to BodyBuilding.com. “While you can definitely load up your system with protein… if those enzymes aren’t there, [it’s] virtually money down the toilet.”
Digestive enzymes could be the supplement that you need to push even closer toward your muscle gain goals, or to feel a little relief from a high-fiber diet or specific food intolerances. Take care of your gut. It’s more important to achieving the body and fitness level you desire than you may think.
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