Digestion doesn’t just take place in your stomach. The pancreas produces a large portion of your digestive enzymes, as does the small intestine, stomach lining, liver, and saliva glands (digestion begins in the mouth, after all). But these enzymes do not digest food -they actually digest nutrients.
Digestive enzymes are the “kick starters” that are responsible for breaking down food to become nutrients. They are then converted to:
- Simple and complex sugars from carbohydrates
- Amino acids from proteins
- Fatty acids and cholesterol from fats
- And other vitamins, minerals, and compounds.
This process is by no means a simple input-output. Dozens of different enzymes work together along the gastrointestinal (GI) tract to break down macronutrients from the foods you eat. These nutrients are then sent through the bloodstream to the liver and then are absorbed into the lymphatic system, which distributes them to tissues, organs, and muscles.
As you can imagine, this complex exchange is responsible for the body’s access to fuel. But it doesn’t end there. Digestive enzymes affect factors for daily life that are not often considered.
But, what about Nutrition?
You can eat all the healthy food in the world, but if you can’t absorb it, not even the healthiest of diets will do any good. However, our bodies can only digest what it’s given. High-fiber foods such as fruits and vegetables contain enzymes of their own that work with digestive enzymes to break down foods faster and allow your body to access nutrients quickly in order to repair and grow your cells.
Luckily, enzyme production is versatile and can be tailored to the types of food consumed. However, if a diet doesn’t include this pairing of essential enzymes, or if the body is unable to produce enough enzymes to promote healthy digestion and diverse microbial life (the right kind of “bugs” in your GI tract), you run the risk of malnutrition.
So, to sum it up. If you don’t have the right kind of digestive enzymes in your body, this could lead to symptoms such as:
- Thyroid issues
- Lackluster hair, skin, and nails
- Mood swings
- And depression
From this, it’s safe to say that maintaining a healthy diet is crucial to support the intricate process of enzyme production.
Immune System Support
Studies have been cited that the autoimmune system, which protects us from bacteria and other harmful products in the environment, may owe its efficiency to digestive enzymes. As humans have evolved, enzyme production followed along. So, our gut flora (the types of “bugs” in your gut – good and bad) has been producing different enzymes to respond to different pathological and environmental threats.
This line of defense allows the body to recognize and eliminate many dangers before they can infect the rest of the body.
Guess what? In a study performed on rats, it was reported that aging affects the ability of the pancreas to produce enzymes. It’s possible that as we get older, we’re no longer to release the same amount of enzymes as when we’re younger.
As we age, our ability to adapt to changes in diet and nutrient absorption slows. In some, this can lead to chronic digestive ailments. Though enzymes are not solely responsible for the aging process, they play a large role in how nutrients reach the areas that need them in all stages of life.
Enzymes and Chronic Stress
Our enzymes could be telling us to slow down. Chronic stress plagues so many people – but just because we always seem to be on the go doesn’t mean our food needs to be. Whenever we’re dealing with stress, it limits the amount of enzymes your body can produce because your brain has to focus on eliminating the stressor before it can focus on normal functions-like digestion.
This is a helpful reminder to slow down.
When we can’t digest our food, we can’t provide our bodies with nutrients. Recurring bouts of anxiety can lead to indigestion and even poor habits like comfort eating and snacking. It may be beneficial to SIT and EAT. As obesity levels continue to rise, it is easy to see how a simple change like sitting down for meals could provide a fulfilling way to de-stress and allow our enzymes to provide break down those nutrients that will speed us on our way.
A New Appreciation…
Enzyme production is naturally tied to well-being, so it’s important to take them into consideration when planning for your health. Certain foods like pineapple, mango, papaya, and honey have been used in Central and South America for centuries to regulate digestion and inflammation in the GI tract.
If you ever become concerned about your enzyme production, supplements are widely available, though cheaper doesn’t always mean better. Make sure to check for quality ingredients that leave out fillers that could denature the enzymes. Talk to your doctor for more information and remember to take care of your enzymes so that they can take care of you.