What are digestive enzymes? Do I need them? Should I take them?
Digestive enzymes are substances produced by our bodies that help us to digest the foods we eat; they are found in various locations throughout the gastrointestinal tract. They are found in the saliva, stomach acid, pancreatic juice and intestinal secretions. These enzymes help us break down food components such as proteins, carbohydrates and fats. This breakdown allows the nutrients from foods to be absorbed into our bloodstreams so that they can support the functioning of all of the cells in our bodies and become more bioavailable.
As we age our gut becomes less efficient and we naturally produce less digestive enzymes which makes it more difficult for our bodies to break down the proteins, fats and carbohydrates in the food we eat. Consuming a digestive enzyme helps with nutrient absorption, digestion and prevention of a host of auto-immune diseases.
When looking for digestive enzymes it is most important to make sure they have: amylase, protease and lipase.
Types of Digestive Enzymes
Our bodies produce many different types of digestive enzymes to help our bodies to take advantage of the various nutrients found within the foods we consume. Here are examples of some of the more prevalent types of enzymes:
Amylase is secreted by both our salivary glands and from our pancreas, it breaks down starches into sugars and is essential for the digestion of carbohydrates.
Lactase is a type of enzyme that breaks down the sugar, lactose, found in dairy products. Lactase may be used to assist people who are lactose intolerant to digest dairy products.
Lipase is the enzyme responsible for the breakdown of fats that we consume. It breaks fats into fatty acids and glycerol (a simple sugar alcohol). Within your body, lipase is produced in small amounts by your mouth and stomach, and in larger amounts by your pancreas.
Maltase is secreted by the small intestine and is responsible for breaking down maltose (malt sugar).
Proteases are digestive enzymes that break down proteins into amino acids. Here are the major types of proteases found within the human digestive tract:
- Carboxypeptidase A
- Carboxypeptidase B
Sucrase is secreted by the small intestine where it breaks down sucrose into the simpler sugars of fructose and glucose.
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