The Advantages Of Digestive Enzyme Supplements

By:    Published: March 29, 2012

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Many people have heard about enzymes, in everything from food to laundry detergent, but what's the big deal? Enzymes are very important to the overall healthy function of the human body, yet few people know what they are, how they work and what benefits can possibly be found in supplementing them.

What Are Enzymes?

Enzymes are protein molecules that act as organic catalysts that allow many of the different chemical reactions that occur in the body every day in order to maintain homeostasis, without which the body can't function. A catalyst is a chemical that is involved in a chemical reaction, but is not changed by the reaction.

What Do Enzymes Do?

A better question perhaps is "what don't they do?" Enzymes are involved in everything from digesting food to repairing muscle tissues after working out. Many enzymes function by lowering the "activation energy" of chemical reactions. The "energy of activation" as it is known is the minimum amount of energy that is required for a reaction to occur. The energy of activation varies widely between reactions.

To make the reactions easier, the enzymes will often weaken chemical bonds allowing the reactions to occur much faster, sometimes 100 times faster or more than if the reactions occurred without the enzymes.

Digestive Enzymes And Their Actions

There are more than 2,000 known enzymes and each is responsible for a particular reaction within the body. For example, the enzyme that is responsible for breaking down glucose is not the same enzyme that is responsible for breaking down fats.

Below, in alphabetical order, are some of the enzymes responsible for breaking down the foods people eat. These are the enzymes that are most often supplemented for better health. There are many others that cannot be supplemented.

Enzyme

Responsible for digesting...

Alpha-galactosidase

Carbohydrates in beans and legumes

Amylase

Starches

Bromelain

Proteins

Cellulase

Fiber

Glucoamylase

Maltose, the sugar found in grains

Invertase

Sucrose, simple sugar

Lactase

Lactose, milk sugar

Lipase

Fats

MaltDiastase

Carbohydrates

Protease

Proteins

Peptidase

Casein in milk and Gluten in wheat

(peptidase will not treat gluten intolerance)

One study found that enzymes are effective for treating inflammation. Bromelain helps reduce inflammation and helps heal muscular-skeletal injuries. This particular enzyme helps heal muscular injuries by actually digesting the damaged muscular fibers and allowing new muscle fibers to grow. In addition, it has been proven more effective than the typical NSAID pain relievers that are usually recommended. Protease is helpful in reducing the pain associated with cancer as well as slowing metastasis of cancerous tumors. It has also been shown to contribute to tumor shrinkage, meaning that cancer patients would likely benefit from supplementing protease to complement their treatment.

Because lipase and amylase are responsible for breaking down fat and starches respectively, research has shown that these enzymes help reduce plaque in arteries, making them a great choice for those with higher cholesterol and diabetics.Theoretically, the food you eat will contain all the enzymes needed to make the best use of nutrients contained in that food. However, over-processing and poor growing conditions have lead to foods that don't have the necessary enzymes. The same is true of the human body. The body does produce digestive enzymes, however, hurried eating and over-processed food can cause a decrease in digestive enzymes. Some medications can also affect digestive enzymes. Some signs that a person has a deficiency in enzymes include fatigue, digestive discomfort, weight gain, joint pain, depression, migraines, gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation and thyroid problems to name a few.

Advantages Of Digestive Enzyme Supplements

There are a number of different enzyme supplements on the market, depending upon the desired action. Using enzymes to help digest certain foods has been popular for some time with those who have problems digesting certain foods, such as milk or beans.

  • There are multi-enzyme supplements targeted toward digestion as well as protease supplements which are intended for muscle repair. If in doubt, opt for a supplement with multiple enzymes to cover all bases.
  • For digestive problems, opt for plant-based formulas. Experts recommend taking the supplement within 10 minutes of starting a meal, and it should be taken with each meal. For children, cut back to two doses per day.
  • For pain, injuries or inflammation adding a supplement of protease between meals can help. Protease is a group of enzymes that break down protein and are essential for muscle repair. Bromelain is a protease enzyme. Children should not take protease supplements as the safety has not been evaluated.
  • Some people should not take enzyme supplements however so it's important that any supplements be discussed with a qualified health care professional.

By supplementing the body with enzymes a person can experience a whole host of beneficial affects including reduced inflammation, less pain, more efficient digestion, and an overall sense of well being that comes from the body functioning more effectively.

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