Last Updated October 11th, 2019
More about digestive enzymes
The role of digestive enzymes is to solubilize food in order to extract nutrients. The mouth, food pipe, stomach, and the intestines are organs involved in digestion along with the liver and pancreas. Enzymes are secreted in the mouth, stomach, and even the small intestines. The pancreas secretes the following enzymes into the small intestine:
- For disintegration of fats, lipase is produced
- Breakdown of carbs is done by the enzyme amylase
- Proteins are broken down by peptidases and proteases
Once these complex molecules are broken down into simples ones, it enables the body to absorb them via the intestinal wall into the bloodstream. These nutrients are then delivered to the rest of the body via the blood.
What happens if the body makes insufficient digestive enzymes?
Insufficient levels of these important digestive enzymes negatively impact There will be disruption in nutrient absorption and waste removal. If you ignore them, then these ailments intensify and can lead to fatal conditions such as liver malfunctioning and even cancer.
Insufficient enzyme secretion can lead to uncomfortable signs. For example, if you don’t have good amounts of lactase, there will be difficulty in lactose digestion. Lactose is present in milk and milk products. Upon consuming such ingredients, there will be side effects such as gas, bloating, diarrhea or flatulence. This is because more undigested lactose passes into the colon followed by fluid accumulation.
Various digestive ailments often result in decreased levels of the digestive enzymes. Conditions such as pancreatic cancer, cystic fibrosis (a genetic condition where the lung walls secrete mucus thereby, causing them to stick to each other. This makes breathing very difficult), etc.
What about enzyme supplements?
The first and foremost rule before taking any supplement is to consult a doctor. The doctor will perform some blood tests to deduce the enzyme deficiency and suggest supplements accordingly.
There are enzyme mixtures enclosed in a pill such as an amylase, lipase, protease, etc. Most of them are manufactured from the pancreas of pigs. They have been investigated and are also approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). There are enzyme supplements prepared from lambs or cows as well. Even plants, fungi, and yeasts are good sources of digestive enzymes.
Natural sources of digestive enzymes
Papaya is a tropical fruit that originated in Mexico. The pulp is orange in color. The seeds are small, black, and are many in number. This tropical fruit is loaded with vitamin A, vitamin C, fiber, potassium, etc. It is also rich in carotenoids that contribute to its orange color. Papayas contain an anticancer pigment called lycopene.
This fruit contains a protease called papain. This enzyme helps in breaking down meat proteins rendering them easy to digest. That is why it is used in meat tenderization as well. Meat obtained from cows, etc., are too hard to cut because of the fiber content. Papain breaks the proteins that hold the fiber chains together and thus softens the meat.
Papaya is very useful to alleviate IBS symptoms such as bloating, stomach cramps, etc. It is best to ripen the fruit and consume them rather than cooking them as the heat exposure denatures the digestive enzymes. Ripe papaya can be consumed raw but unripe papaya must be cooked first. Unripe or half ripe papaya can stimulate contractions in pregnant women.
Pineapple is known for minimizing digestive problems and lowers the inflammation. They are highly nourishing as they contain calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, beta carotene, and other antioxidants. The potassium content in pineapple enables in lowering the blood pressure. Vitamin C in this fruit pumps upgrades the immune functioning.
The fiber content in pineapple prevents the spike in the blood sugar post food consumption. Pineapples contain the protease called bromelain. It is also used to soften meat and is also available as supplements for those who cannot digest proteins.
The cells causing inflammation (cytokines) that damage the digestive lining can be lowered by bromelain. The inedible stems of pineapple contain more amounts of bromelain. This protease reduces healing time, swelling and pain as well.
Honey is a natural sweetener. You can use honey in ice creams, tea, sauces, etc. It is mainly rich in complex carbohydrates. Honey is helpful for wound healing. It contains a protein called defensin-1 which contributes to an antibacterial property. It contains antioxidants and minerals such as calcium and magnesium as well.
Raw honey contains the following digestive enzymes:
- Amylase – to disintegrate starch into glucose and maltose
- Diastase – Breakdown of starch into maltose
- Invertase – to break sucrose into glucose and fructose
It is always healthier to consume raw honey because processed honey involves heating and heat denatures these digestive enzymes.
Ginger contains phenolic compounds such as p-coumaric acid, ferulic acid, etc., and these compounds have a soothing effect on the digestive tract. This root vegetable also stimulates saliva and bile synthesis to enable foods to move through the digestive tract effectively. Ginger also enhances the function of pancreatic lipase and trypsin.
Zingibain (a protease) is present in ginger. The life of this enzyme is short and that is why it is not used to soften meats. Ginger is known to fasten the movement of food through the stomach by inducing muscular contractions. There are researches showing that ginger stimulates the body to produce its own lipase and amylase.
Fermented milk with the help of kefir grains, encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria and yeast. The sugars in the milk are utilized by the bacteria and the yeast to produce organic acids such as acetic acid, butyric acid, etc., via a process called fermentation. This results in the production of digestive enzymes and nutrients. Kefir contains important digestive enzymes such as lactase, lipase, etc.
Mangoes are the yellowish orange fruit that largely grows in the tropical regions. Raw mangoes taste a bit sour. The potent antioxidant zeaxanthin is present in mangoes. This antioxidant helps in combating the oxidative damage. Zeaxanthinlowers the risk of macular degeneration. This antioxidant helps in filtering out the harmful blue rays that contribute to the blindness.
The fiber and water content in mangoes which enables ease of bowel evacuation. They also contain vitamin A which helps in maintaining hydration for the skin and hair. Amylase is also present in mangoes. As the fruit ripens, the amylase functioning magnifies. That is why you experience a sweeter taste in ripe mangoes than the raw ones. This enables ease of absorption of carbohydrates into the body.
Avocados are rich in potassium, vitamin C, vitamin B5, vitamin B6, etc. It is rich in good fats and fiber (both soluble and insoluble ones). Components in avocado enhance the good cholesterol levels in the body. The healthy fats in avocado enable the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (vitamin A, D, E, and K). This fruit also contains zeaxanthin. Lipases are also present in avocados. Guacamole is a great way of including avocados. You can combine the fruit pulp with chopped tomatoes, onions, etc.
Bananas are rich in potassium. They also contain vitamin C, vitamin B6, fiber, etc. Fibers(pectin and resistant starch) from banana help the good bacteria living inside your gut. Catechins and dopamine are also present in bananas. These antioxidants influence your mood in a good way. Bananas also contain digestive enzymes such as maltase and amylase. These enzymes enable your body to process carbohydrates.
The final takeaway
There are various food sources that naturally contain digestive enzymes. The purpose of these digestive enzymes is the breaking down of complex molecules into simpler ones so that your body will be able to absorb it with ease and utilize the carbs for other purposes. These food sources also provide added benefits such as cancer prevention, heart protection, protection of the eye from blindness, etc. Natural sources such as banana, papaya, pineapple, honey, etc., enable better digestion. That is why you will notice the inclusion of these foods after a meal or in a dessert.
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