If you are trying to repair a leaky gut, suffer from chronic digestive problems such as gas, bloating, indigestion or constipation, you experience reflux after a meal, or you see pieces of undigested food or a fatty substance in your stool, your body it can't make enough digestive enzymes, or your enzymes aren't working as well as they should. This is a common problem in patients with chronic disease, and fortunately, one that is easily remedied.
So today, we're going to talk about what digestive enzymes are, what causes enzyme deficiency, and most importantly, how to maintain healthy levels of digestive enzymes.
What are digestive enzymes?
When you eat, your body has to break down food into micro and macro nutrients that can then be absorbed and used by the body. Digestive enzymes are small proteins that act on specific molecules within food to break it down. Most people are familiar with the enzyme lactase, which is responsible for breaking down the sugar in milk called lactose. People who lack this enzyme are not able to digest milk (which is known as "lactose intolerance"). Similarly, there are many other enzymes that each work on a specific type of molecule. If you are deficient in any of these enzymes, your body cannot break down food the way it should., which can cause significant digestive tract problems.
The process of digestion begins in the mouth where saliva begins to metabolize food. From there your food travels to the stomach, where stomach acid, mainly hydrochloric acid (HCL), begins to release proteins. Finally, most of the digestive enzymes are made by the pancreas. When eating, the pancreas receives a hormonal signal to release the pancreatic juice in the small intestine. Pancreatic juice contains several digestive enzymes, as well as bicarbonate to neutralize stomach acid. Enzymes work in the small intestine to break down food so it can be absorbed. The enzymes produced by the pancreas include:
• Amylases - break down starches (complex carbohydrates)
• Lipases - break down fats
• Proteases and peptidases - break down proteins
In addition, there are a number of enzymes, located near the mucosa of the small intestine (the brush border), most of which break down disaccharides into simple sugars, which can be absorbed from the intestine into the bloodstream.
How do digestive enzymes affect gut health?
You are not what you eat, you are what you digest and absorb. If food is not well digested and absorbed in your small intestine, this can lead to malnutrition, as there are not enough nutrients absorbed by the body. Additionally, undigested food travels down through the digestive tract and provides food for "bad" bacteria, causing gas and bloating, leading to dysbiosis as bad bacteria outnumber good bacteria. . The amount and type of undigested food that reaches the large intestine can have a major impact on the balance of good and bad bacteria in the colon.
What Causes Digestive Enzyme Deficiency?
Now that we understand the importance of digestive enzymes, let's look at what causes digestive enzyme deficiency.
Conventional medicine only recognizes some of the causes of digestive enzyme deficiencies, and they are only the most extreme cases, including acute or chronic pancreatitis, cystic fibrosis, pancreatic cancer, gallbladder removal, and the diseases of the small intestine that it affects. brush border, such as Crohn's disease or celiac disease.
Functional medicine, by contrast, recognizes that there are many underlying health problems that can contribute to enzyme deficiencies. Leaky gut is the most common cause, destroying the brush border of your small intestine. Inflammation from food and toxin sensitivities also decreases enzyme production, as well as chronic stress, genetics, and aging. Low stomach acid also plays a role, as an acidic environment is necessary to activate the enzymes responsible for digesting protein.
Beyond the broader scope of causes, functional medicine also differs from conventional medicine in that the latter sees enzyme deficiency as a matter of black and white, has "normal" levels, or is severely deficient. In functional medicine, wellness is viewed as a spectrum, and it recognizes that just because you are not at the point of severe deficiency, it does not mean that your levels are optimal or that your health will not improve by increasing them.
The increase in digestive enzymes eases the burden of many of the most common causes of chronic diseases, including leaky gut, infections such as Candida or SIBO, and chronic inflammation caused by a poor diet.
How is digestive enzyme deficiency treated?
In functional medicine, replenishing digestive enzymes through a digestive enzyme supplement is a key part. Restoring digestive enzymes not only ensures that you properly break down and absorb nutrients from food, a recent study showed that digestive enzymes can improve not only gastrointestinal symptoms, but also behavioral symptoms in children with autism.
So, if you are treating a leaky gut, if you are transitioning from a processed food diet, or have digestive problems, such as gas, bloating, indigestion, reflux, diarrhea, constipation, or undigested food in your stool, the administration of digestive enzymes is recommended as a treatment. Choose a supplement that contains a wide variety of enzymes, such as a complete enzyme formula, which is also available in chewable form.
If you have low stomach acid levels and are suffering from acid reflux, you may also want to consider adding an HCL (High Intensity Probiotics) supplement. If you don't know if your stomach acid is low, there is a simple test you can do to find out. You can take an HCL capsule with water before a meal, and then see how you feel after about 30 minutes. If you feel a burning sensation, you don't need to take HCL supplements. But if you don't feel anything, you may have to add an HCL supplement.