Digestive Enzymes stand as my personal #1 supplement to take, even above something as basic as a multi-vitamin. If you already take digestive enzymes then chances are you’ve already learned about their necessity in being able to help assimilate the modern diet. Yet many are still unaware of the value such a supplement can bring to their general health and well-being.
Digestive enzymes can help people who eat poorly just as much as the people who eat healthy. As we age, our body produces less digestive enzymes regardless of our diet. Thus whether you eat healthy or poorly has no bearing on the cessation of enzyme activity in your body, at least as far as science has been able to uncover. Yet this fact is why certain foods that we could eat when we were younger, are harder when we get older. I hear constantly from my network of friends and associates about their growing intolerance for milk, gluten, red meat, even some raw vegetables along with other foods that are typically harder to digest.
Dr. Edward Howell (1898-1988), a pioneer researcher on enzymes and nutrition, when asked where enzymes in our bodies come from, responded:
“It seems that we inherit a certain enzyme potential at birth. This limited supply of activity factors or life force must last us a lifetime. It’s just as if you inherited a certain amount of money. If the movement is all one way – all spending and no income – you will run out of money. Likewise, the faster you use up your supply of enzyme activity, the quicker you will run out. Experiments at various universities have shown that, regardless of the species, the faster the metabolic rate, the shorter the lifespan. Other things being equal, you live as long as your body has enzyme activity factors to make enzymes from. When it gets to the point that you can’t make certain enzymes, then your life ends.”
You may conclude however that you are digesting food just fine. And perhaps you are. But not so fast!
You may be digesting food just fine, but what if it’s cooked? Many of the old time experts in enzyme research concluded that food cooked over as low as 104f or roughly 40 centigrade (and the temp varies upward depending on who you read), destroys much of the nutrients AND enzymes. Thus, when you consume food that is cooked, which includes processed foods, you are essentially using up your own enzymes to digest them. Yes, of course, that’s what your body is supposed to be able to do. But there’s a bigger picture in play. Read on.
Some digestive enzymes, such as proteases are also proteolytic enzymes, meaning their primary focus is to travel throughout your body by way of your blood to digest the protein barrier on various circulating immune complexes, viruses, aberrant tissues and more, which allows for their effective breakdown and removal thus keeping you healthy. Therefore if you give some relief to your digestive process, you may over time, notice an improvement to your health. Enzymes you take that are not used in the digestive process are re-tasked toward the maintenance of the body from everything to breaking down fibrin (the stuff that clogs arteries) to allowing your immune system to be more effective.
I’m not saying that you need to be a vegan either and only eat plants, or raw plants, or anything else. Everyone has a different body, a different enzyme potential, and as the seasons change, so do our body’s needs. In TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), it is believed that for some people, a raw or vegan diet may “dampen” digestive “fire” necessitating one’s need to supplement with a digestive enzymes and HCI (hydrochloric acid, see below) along with modifying their diets. And really, in the end, it’s all about balance and every human body has it’s own needs. While we may all react similarly to being burned by fire, we manifest different reactions to the foods we eat based on one too many factors to list. It’s safe to say though, that the less one can digest, the less of the “good factors” will be manifested. This has ramifications on your body AND your mental health! (And no I am not saying a digestive enzyme is the key to mental health, that problem is much more complex than that).
Our bodies re-build themselves new, by the clock. Our livers take roughly 5-6 months, our lungs roughly 6 weeks, our hearts roughly 20 years and so forth. Without good clean food, that is right for your specific body, and the ability to digest that food, you may be robbing your future self of it’s health.
Let’s take a short 101 for a moment on enzymes.
What is an Enzyme?
An enzyme is a bio-molecule that catalyzes and speeds up chemical reactions inside your body (any animal body).
Enzymes govern and regulate every single system in your body; digestive, liver, kidneys, blood, pancreas, immune system, as well as your senses such as sight, smell and even feeling. They essentially affect every organ, cell, bone and muscle in your body and how those each react to form a cohesive whole. Thus you can kind of get an idea that enzymes are the essence of life in a way.
To date (meaning science may discover more), there are approximately 75,000 enzymes that exist in the human body roughly divided into metabolic or proteolytic enzymes and digestive enzymes. A certain reaction within the body may require hundreds of enzymes to complete it’s process in order for proper functioning to take place. As we are spot lighting digestive enzymes, most of the following information will be about that type.
In a nutshell, how our digestive process works
Nature intended us to eat foods that are enzyme rich. “Live foods” as they are called contain their own enzymes to help in their breakdown and are therefore easier to digest, the same goes for raw vegetables and meat (though I am not suggesting you eat raw meat). The next step of that process (and where most start when they eat processed and/or cooked foods) is chewing which activates saliva. This liquid contains amylase which starts the pre-digestion phase of certain carbohydrates. About an hour after you swallow, hydrochloric acid and pepsinogen (secreted in the stomach) will both inactivate those enzymes (due to the PH change, mostly keeping them intact) while fulfilling it’s primary purpose of digesting protein (the hydrochloric acid mixes with the pepsinogen which is a precursor to pepsin). Once the food is further broken down by this process, it enters the duodenum, the first part of the small intestine as a more concentrated acid, and in an amino-rich form, though still partially digested. As the food moves to this location, the pancreas releases a highly alkaline bicarbonate to neutralize the acid used to digest the protein, along with reactivating the deactivated enzymes and adding small amounts of it’s own, such as proteases, lipase and amylase, to finish the digestive process. It is at this time that the gallbladder is triggered to release bile which serves to digest and help assimilate fats. From there the food, now more closely resembling a liquid of sorts, gets absorbed through your small intestine into your bloodstream where it gets used in various parts of your body for maintenance, rebuilding and growth ie survival. Eventually it travels the miles of your small intestine toward your large colon where eventually it (along with other waste substances) are formed and pass out the other side.
There are plenty of more technical articles on this process but for our purposes this general description should give you the basic idea. Where things go wrong, is when food, being void of enzymes (and nutritional value in general), aren’t properly broken down to the point where they can be assimilated. Further exacerbating this point is consuming dead foods, and even worse, dead foods full of chemicals, anti-biotics, hormones and more. A host of problems can be created, over time, through poor digestion including leaky gut, a condition in which larger unbroken proteins permeate the compromised or ”leaky” intestinal wall and once inside the blood are treated as foreign invaders as these particles aren’t properly broken down to the point where they can be utilized or recognized properly. In addition to this condition which mainstream medical has doubted for years, but which some doctors are coming around to, there are several indicators, or “red flags” if you will which is your body’s way of alerting you to a potential digestive issue. These more apparent indicators include:
Fullness (after eating a smallish amount or certain foods)
Weak, cracked finger nails
Candida (especially recurring)
Now, it should be noted that many of these symptoms are bedfellows to other conditions and/or indicators of other issues. But everything in the body is connected in one way or another, as is taught in the many century old textbooks of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
Poor digestion can also exacerbate other conditions, or help to develop or solidify certain conditions in the body which include; IBS/IBD, Crohns, Ulcerative Colitis and more which affect the digestive tract. And of course, years (for some, less for others) of poor digestion can lead to other conditions such as liver problems which will affect one’s overall feeling of wellness and energy. An improperly functioning or overworked liver can lead to a host of physical problems AND mental problems! (That will be covered in a future writing).
My personal recommendation based on years of trial and error and personally guinea pigging myself with a combination of stress, a bad diet (6-8 cups of coffee a day, excessive alcohol, eating lots of fried, crap foods and more) lead me to this road and essentially this digestive formula. And I’ve tried them all, or at least maybe 40-50 different formulas over the years including every major brand on the market today.
My discovery of the following formula was nothing short of great for me personally, so much so that I decided to introduce and include the formula in the Synergy Gold product line.
Let’s take a look at the ingredients and what they are supposed to do.
We’ll start at the top:
Betaine HCI: This is a combination of Betaine and Hydrochloric Acid. Betaine is found in certain foods such as Wheat Bran, Quinoa, Beets, Spinach and others. Betaine is also known as Trimethylglycine or TMG and is a molecule comprised of Glycine and 3 methyl groups attached to it. In short, “The main mechanisms of betaine are either its usage as a methyl donor, where it either directly donates a methyl group to reduce homocysteine into L-methionine (seen as cardioprotective) or it increases bodily levels of S-Adenosyl Methionine (SAMe) or active folate molecules, and those two can then go on to donate methyl groups to other parts of the body. Due to this, supplementation of betaine is able to indirectly support whole-body methylation, and directly support a reduction in homocysteine (which is reliably observed following moderate to high dose supplementation.” (https://examine.com/supplements/trimethylglycine/)
Though levels of 500mg or more of Betaine are observed to work on lowering Homocysteine levels in the body, the dosage found in this supplement is better suited for digestion though that’s not to say that one with elevated homocysteine levels would not experience some benefit from the addition of a digestive enzyme with Betaine HCI in it.
Hydrochloric acid plays a couple roles here. First, it helps to unfold protein which will allow pepsin to actually digest the protein. But first your stomach secretes a pre-cursor known as pepsinogen from it’s cells. At this point it does nothing until it comes into contact with hydrochloric acid, at which time it becomes converted to pepsin and now has the ability to digest protein. Your stomach has a mucus coating which protects it from being digested by the pepsin. As we age, or under certain health conditions which inhibit this relationship of protein digestion, our ability to create these crucial digestive elements are lessened. This is seen in some, more than others.
Pepsin, as covered above is vital to protein digestion.
Ox bile has the purpose of helping you to digest fats, including animal and oils. If you don’t have a gallbladder then you absolutely need to supplement with bile salts. If you still have a gallbladder, then you may still find benefit in using ox bile in the dosage found in this supplement. A lack of the ability to digest fats will definitely contribute to the bullet point symptoms above but can also lead one to a deficiency in fat-soluable vitamins, essentially fatty acids and may even contribute to poor cholesterol metabolism.
Peptidase (DPP-IV) is an enzyme which helps in the breakdown of casomorphin (from casein) and gluteomorphin (from gluten).
Amylase, is an enzyme that aids in the breakdown of starch into sugars for digestion. This enzyme is located in two places, first your saliva which when combined with good chewing is the first step in the digestive process. The next place amylase shows up in the cycle of digestion is when the pancreas releases it to complete digestion (along with other enzymes).
Proteases refers to a group of enzymes which aid in the breakdown of protein by acting as a “key” to unlock peptide bonds in protein.
Glucoamylase is a specific type of amylase which breaks off a free glucose molecule found in the complex sugar-based chains found in starch or from the simpler sugar, maltose. This enzyme will help in the digestion of starch that comes in most vegetables but also includes such foods as rice, wheat and corn. By removing free glucose molecules from the end of the starchy chains instead of breaking the chains into smaller ones, this enzyme allows us to absorb nutrients and thus gain energy from many of the plant foods we eat.
Lactase helps to break down lactose, found in milk.
Invertase is an enzyme which helps to split sucrose (table sugar) into it’s two component parts; glucose and fructose. Essentially, this enzyme helps break down sugar so that the body can properly utilize and process it.
Lipase works with bile to help in the breakdown of fats (fat soluable vitamins, essential fatty acids and others).
While this article has focused on digestive enzymes there are a couple things to note about proteolytic enzymes. First, this special category of enzymes has a purpose of being released into the blood – or absorbed – with the purpose of breaking down the protein protection coating around pathogens and aberrant tissues inside your body. Some of the benefits of proteolytic enzymes include; increased energy production and stamina, immune system functionality, muscle recovery (great for people who use their muscles such as in weight training, sports and other strenuous physical activity), inflammation within the body (something many people have whether they realize it or not). Proteolytic enzymes have been shown to affect inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis, cardiovascular health by helping to dissolve fibrin in the arteries, inflammation and blood flow, provides support for NK cell activity (the cells responsible for seeking out and destroying foreign invaders in your body), as well as helping to prevent colon cancer – another thing on the rise in countries with highly processed foods and bad eating habits. You may have read about some of these enzymes such as Nattokinase which dissolves fibrin, or Serrapeptase and on and on. They can be a godsend for “ghost pain” that is, pain or discomfort that seems to move around the body or have no discernible cause.
There are a few enzymes which have a dual function by their very nature, those being proteases and pepsin. When no food is available to digest, the body can retask (just by consumption), to areas where the body needs more help. So while there are proteolytic specific formulas designed to address certain conditions, an added benefit to taking a digestive enzyme is that whatever you don’t use, will get used somehow. Plus, taking one allows the body to use more of it’s enzyme store for issues inside the body instead of in the digestion of enzyme deficient foods. This could spell better health in the long run.
I hope this article helps you to understand the importance of enzymes and why, even if you are healthy and have a good diet, that even you can benefit from them due to their multi-purpose functions.
Dr. Lynn Mikel talking about digestion.