Enzymes: The Superheroes of Digestion and Life
Enzymes are critical for more than just digestion; your life depends on them. So you’ve heard the phrase, “You are what you eat.” But in reality, you are only what you digest. That’s why enzymes are such a crucial component for all living organisms. In your body, enzymes are the worker bees. They create the energy by which all work is accomplished within your cells—with enzymes, life happens.
Let’s break it down, literally.
To put the importance of enzymes in digestion into perspective, consider these common ailments: uncomfortable bloating, annoying indigestion, painful heartburn and embarrassing gas. These symptoms occur when the body fails to properly digest or “break down” what you consume.
Enter the enzyme superheroes!
Did you know that the main ingredient in Beano (a popular OTC aid for gas) is a digestive enzyme that helps break down complex carbohydrates found in such flatulence-inducing culprits as beans, broccoli and cabbage? Or how about Lactaid (an OTC aid for lactose-intolerance)? This contains the digestive enzyme, lactase, which helps digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and other dairy products.
Enzyme superheroes don’t grow on trees.
As we age our bodies slow down the natural production of enzymes leading to an increased reliance on getting enzymes from the food we eat (easier said than done). As a matter of fact, due to depleted soil values, pesticides and poor harvesting practices, fruits and veggies just don’t have the same nutritional values they once did. The US Department of Agriculture tracked 43 fruits and vegetables and found nutrient content fell from 38% to 6% over the past 50 years, leaving a dwindling army of enzymes that have to fight through the cooking fire to get to your plate.
And forget about finding enzymes on your neighborhood grocery shelves. Enzymes have a severe aversion to heat, and pre-packaged food is processed or pasteurized at temperatures that kill enzymes. This is where comprehensive enzyme supplements come in and knowing the right kind of enzymes needed in your diet.
Animal versus Plant
Animal enzymes (usually from the pancreas of animals, known as pancreatin) are only active in the later stages of digestion, and do not accomplish any pre-digestion, causing your body to continue to exhaust its own dwindling enzyme supply. Plant enzymes work in all stages of digestion, including the pre-digestive phase.
Animal—based enzymes require an 8.0 pH to be of any use, which isn’t reached until major digestion has already taken place, whereas plant enzymes (cultured on plants called aspergillus) can work between 3 and 9 pH which means they work throughout the whole digestive tract, both the low pH of the stomach as well as the high pH of the intestine.
Beano and Lactaid might be useful after the fact, but they each only address one issue at a time. A better idea is to look for a comprehensive plant-based supplement that includes a broad spectrum of enzymes needed for proper and effective digestion.
Adding these enzymes to your diet means you’ll eat with ease, and no longer have to worry about bloating or embarrassing gas after eating bread, green leafy vegetables and other common foods. Here are some of the essential enzymes for happy digestion.
Amylase: an enzyme that helps digest carbohydrates.
Bromelian: an enzyme with anti-inflammatory properties helps break down proteins
Cellulase: enzymes digest cellulose fiber, and aids in malabsorption.
Lactase: helps to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and other dairy products.
Lipase: works to digest fats in the body.
Maltese: breaks down carbohydrates to yield glucose and other sugars.
Proteases: also known as proteolytic enzymes help to digest proteins.
Prevention is Key
The importance of digestion goes well beyond physical discomforts. If your body isn’t unlocking the full energy potential of what you’re eating, meaning it’s not digesting the good stuff, you feel even worse. It’s one of the most evident cause-and-effect systems you’ll find in nature. So the next time someone says, “You are what you eat,” you can confidently tell them, “You are what you digest.”