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Digestive Enzymes

Digestion | December 15, 2017 | Author: Naturopath


Digestive Enzymes

Digestion is a complex and intricate process that starts in your brain and ends in your rectum. As part of the digestive process, food passes through the gastrointestinal tract, and along the way mixes with digestive juices that contain stomach acid, bile, intestinal bacteria, and digestive enzymes, all are necessary for proper digestion.

What are digestive enzymes?

Enzymes, in general, are substances (proteins) that speed up chemical reactions in the body. There are thousands of different enzymes in the human body; each plays a different, but very specific and vital role. The function of digestive enzymes is to break down our food into different nutrients, so we can digest it.

The main digestive enzymes throughout the digestive systemThe main digestive enzymes throughout the digestive system

Saliva. Saliva moistens and mixes with food to begin breaking it down so it moves more easily through the oesophagus into the stomach. In addition, saliva contains the enzyme amylase that begins to break down the starches (carbohydrates) from food.

Stomach. The lining of the stomach produces stomach acid that continues the process of breaking down food. It also excretes an enzyme that begins the chemical breakdown of protein. This enzyme is called pepsin.

Pancreas. The pancreas secretes several enzymes that pass into the small intestines to help digest food. Pancreatic protease breaks down proteins, pancreatic amylase breaks down carbohydrates, and pancreatic lipase breaks down fat.

Small intestines. This is where lactase is produced, the enzyme that is needed to break down lactose (the sugar that is found in dairy products). Any shortage of lactase may lead to an extremely common condition called ‘lactose intolerance’.

Causes of digestive enzymes deficiency

Many people do not produce enough digestive enzymes, resulting in the inability to digest food properly. The following conditions may lead to enzyme deficiency:

Furthermore, it is thought that Inflammation from food sensitivities, chronic stress and age-related changes in the digestive system also decreases enzyme production.

Symptoms of digestive enzymes deficiency

Some of the symptoms are similar to those of other digestive diseases, so you may not know that you are deficient. They include abnormal quantities of fat in the stool (manifested in pale and floating stool), weight loss, diarrhoea, fatigue, gas, and bloating. 

Symptoms of lactose intolerance include abdominal bloating, a feeling of fullness or swelling in the abdomen, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, gas, and nausea.

Increasing digestive enzymes naturally

You can try to increase your digestive enzymes through food and chewing.

Fresh, raw foods. Cooking and heating foods at temperatures higher than 118 degrees Fahrenheit destroy enzymes, so it is recommended that you increase your intake of fresh, raw foods. They have the highest activity of enzymes. Include fresh fruit and vegetables, and raw fish (sashimi).

Fermented foods. Fermentation is one of the oldest forms of food preservation technology in the world, dating back to the beginning of human civilisation. It is primarily a biochemical process in which microorganisms (such as bacteria, yeasts and moulds) or enzymes convert sugar and starch to alcohol or lactic acid, which help preserve the foods.

Naturally fermented foods and beverages contain probiotic bacteria, as well as enzymes that improve digestive health. Examples of fermented foods include yoghurt and kefir, pickles, sauerkraut, kombucha, and miso.
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Pineapple. Fresh pineapple (but not canned or cooked) contains bromelain, an anti inflammatory enzyme that breaks down proteins.

Increasing digestive enzymes naturallyPapaya. Some varieties contain the enzyme papain, another enzyme that breaks down protein. Papain is sometimes added to ointments (pawpaw ointments) to treat ulcers, burns and wounds.

Chew thoroughly. Digestion begins in the mouth with chewing. Chew your food completely until it is small enough to be swallowed with ease. This way, the food is exposed to saliva for a longer period of time and the digestive enzymes in your saliva will break down what you eat more efficiently.

Should I take digestive enzymes supplements?

Dr Amy Myers, a renowned leader in functional medicine, and two times New York Times bestselling author, suggests that you should give digestive enzymes supplements a try if you are:

  • Suffering from a leaky gut. This is a condition where unhealthy gut lining may have large cracks or holes, allowing partially digested food, toxins, and microbes to escape from your intestines and travel throughout your body via your bloodstream.
  • Transitioning from a diet of processed foods.
  • Having digestive issues such as gas, bloating, indigestion, reflux, diarrhoea, constipation, or undigested food in your stool.
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Many enzyme supplements are available over the counter. They typically contain several enzymes that support the body in breaking down the three key macronutrients (fats, carbohydrates and proteins), as well as additional ingredients such as herbs, minerals or probiotics to support a healthy digestive system and function.

Lactose intolerant individuals can increase the body’s levels of lactase enzymes by consuming it in the form of tablets/capsules immediately before consuming dairy products.

Are there any side effects?

Over the counter digestive enzyme supplements are considered safe in the recommended doses, so always read the label. However, some people may experience gastrointestinal upset. Use it for two or three weeks for a short trial period to assess if they are working for you.

People taking blood thinners (such as warfarin), should not take bromelain, the enzyme from pineapple, as it may increase the risk of bleeding. Always consult your pharmacist or doctor if you are taking other medications.  Australia’s best online discount chemist


Amy Myers MD. Should You Be Taking Digestive Enzymes? Available at:

Fieker, A., Philpott, J. & Armand, M., 2011. Enzyme replacement therapy for pancreatic insufficiency: present and future. Clinical and experimental gastroenterology, 4, pp.55–73. Available at:

Ianiro, G. et al., 2016. Digestive Enzyme Supplementation in Gastrointestinal Diseases. Current drug metabolism, 17(2), pp.187–93. Available at:

Michigan Medicine 2015. Digestive Enzymes. Available at:

NIDDK 2014. Lactose Intolerance. Available at:

NIDDK 2013, The Digestive System & How it Works |. Available at:

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