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Digestive System Enzymes

What Are Digestive Enzymes?

Human digestive system enzymes are produced by the body to help break down food into nutrients and waste. The nutrient molecules must be digested small enough to be absorbed through the lining of the small intestines. When we don't produce enough digestive enzymes to complete this process efficiently - gas, bloating, and more serious health issues occur.

Food digestive enzymes are found in raw foods. Unprocessed whole foods contain most of the enzymes needed for digesting that particular food. This is one reason why it's important to include many raw foods in our diets. It relieves the stress of the body having to produce all the digestive system enzymes needed for food digestion.

The definition of digestion is the ability to convert food into a form that can be assimilated by the body. This short video provides a clear and basic explanation of the digestive process.

Types of Digestive Enzymes

There are three basic categories of digestive system enzymes: amylases (carbohydrate digestion into simple sugars), proteases (protein digestion into amino acids), and lipases (fat or lipid digestion into essential fatty acids). There are thousands of enzymes within each of these categories.

Cellulase is a type of amylase which breaks down cellulose (fiber). It is the only digestive enzyme our body doesn't have the ability to manufacture, but it is contained in the raw foods we eat. Enzymes also help to extract vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients from the food we eat.

Salivary Enzymes
The digestive process begins in the mouth with chewing. The teeth and tongue grind the food into smaller particles and mix it with three different kinds of amylase enzymes in saliva to begin carbohydrate digestion of starches and sugars. After swallowing, the bolus of food is carried through the esophagus and into the stomach via the cardiac sphincter.

Stomach Enzymes
Food stays in the upper (cardiac) section of the stomach for a half hour or so while carbohydrates are further digested by the amylase from saliva. Raw foods are also predigested here since they contain their own active enzymes. This is a great reason for chewing our food well and eating mostly raw foods. Cooking and processing food denatures the naturally occurring food digestive enzymes.

Food then enters the lower (pyloric) portion of the stomach, where gastric enzymes are secreted for the initial breakdown of proteins. Pepsin, hydrochloric acid (HCL), and the muscular movement of the stomach create a watery solution called chyme. After about two hours, this mixture enters the small intestine through the pyloric sphincter.

Pancreas Enzymes
The upper section of the small intestine is called the duodenum, and it is here where additional enzymes are added to the mix. The liver produces bile, which is stored in the gallbladder, then released as needed into the duodenum to emulsify fat into smaller globules. This makes it easier for lipase, the fat-burning enzymes secreted by the pancreas, to more efficiently digest the fatty foods.

The body senses what types of foods have entered the small intestine and signals the pancreas to release the appropriate pancreatic enzymes. In addition to the fat-digesting lipase enzymes, some other digestive system enzymes from the pancreas are trypsin - a protease enzyme, and lactase enzymes or milk enzymes that digest the milk sugar lactose in dairy products.

Bicarbonate is also secreted by the pancreas to neutralize the acids from the stomach. The gastric secretions are very acidic and the intestines have a more alkaline pH.

Intestinal Absorption

The small intestines are lined with villi and microvilli.

digestive system intestinal villi

These tiny finger-like projections absorb small nutrient molecules that have been broken down by the digestive system enzymes. The lacteals and capillaries deliver the nutrients into the bloodstream.

As the remaining food waste enters the large intestine (colon), electrolytes and the excess water is reabsorbed. The microflora (beneficial bacteria or probiotics) in the intestines also create more enzymes - amylase, lactase, and protease - to help complete the digestive process.

Digestive System Enzymes Supplements

Most people use digestive enzymes supplements to overcome symptoms of indigestion like heartburn, gas and bloating, or acid reflux. If left unchecked, these symptoms can lead to more serious digestive system problems or many other health issues and diseases.

The best natural digestive enzymes are the full spectrum enzymes - a complete combination of plant-based digestive enzymes for breaking down carbohydrates, fats, protein, and fiber. Read more detailed information about digestive system enzymes supplements here.

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