The important role of digestive enzymes

GLENN ELLIS | 11/13/2016, 7:19 p.m.
It’s that time of year! The holiday season is rapidly approaching.

Strategies for Well-Being

It’s that time of year! The holiday season is rapidly approaching. Overeating and holiday stress make for a digestive double whammy. Have you ever enjoyed a large holiday meal with family and friends only to experience digestive issues that left you feeling reclusive?

I know you’ve all heard of taking digestive enzymes and probably have a vague idea that they’re good for you. Now you wonder if you should be taking them. But this is one area where we also see a lot of confusion. Supplementation of any sort without knowing what or why you’re doing what you’re doing can be just as detrimental to your health as doing nothing at all. So before you stock up on them, let’s get the complete low-down on all things digestive enzymes.

Here is some info to help keep your digestion aligned during the holidays and throughout the year:

Eating a large meal can put a strain on your digestive system, especially for those already dealing with weak digestion. Your digestive system is uniquely constructed to perform its specialized function of turning food into the energy you need to survive and packaging the residue for waste disposal.

Here’s where the problem occurs. Cooked food contains no enzymes because they have been destroyed. If you eat a meal consisting of a salad, a steak and a baked potato, there are likely enough food enzymes contained in the salad to digest it – break it down so your body can use its nutrients. But, because the steak and potato are cooked, there are no food enzymes available to digest them, so our body must take over and internally create the needed amount of digestive enzymes to handle the digestive task.

As it turns out, the root of many digestive complaints is enzyme deficiency.

To better understand digestive enzymes, we must first understand the role of nutrition in our health. Nutrition is the body’s ability to use and metabolize food.

There are 45 known essential nutrients that are required in specific amounts for the body to function properly. The term “essential,” as used here, means the body cannot synthesize them internally. Therefore, all “essential” nutrients must come from outside sources. In addition to carbohydrates, fats (lipids), complete proteins, and water, there are at least 13 kinds of vitamins and at least 20 kinds of minerals required for proper metabolic function.

Once consumed, the food containing these nutrients must be digested, meaning they must be broken apart and reduced to a state that the nutrients can be absorbed into and transported by the blood stream to all parts of the body.

Our body’s cells are programmed to direct each nutrient to combine and interact with other nutrients and chemicals to create still other chemicals and compounds that, in turn, are used to build and repair the body’s cells, bones, tissue, and organs. The process is called metabolism. Each metabolic reaction is started, controlled and terminated by enzymes.

Proteins, carbohydrates and fats are the three main food groups that make up the bulk of our daily diet. A “balanced” diet means we consume the proper proportions of these three basic food groups on a daily basis. This balance, when combined with the assurance that we also get the essential nutrients, can help provide a healthy life – if we properly process and metabolize these nutrients. To do this we also need an adequate source of the major types of digestive enzymes: proteases (to digest proteins), amylases (to digest carbohydrates), and lipases (to digest fats).