Can Enzymes Help Relieve Your Digestion Problems?

June 1, 2021 , ,

If your digestive system causes you to suffer: diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas…, you have most likely already tried supplements of all kinds, and with varying results, to help relieve your symptoms. As you have walked through the natural supplements aisles of your local pharmacy or health food store you may have already noticed digestive enzymes and wondered if they could be a possible solution for you.

The role of digestive enzymes in our body

Digestive enzymes are the molecules that are responsible for breaking down the food in our body into smaller particles so that the nutrients they contain can be more easily absorbed.

Digestion begins in the mouth with the production of a significant amount of amylase which breaks down starch into maltose, and to a lesser extent lingual lipase, which will begin the digestion of fatty substances. Next, the enzymes present in the stomach (pepsin and lipase) deal with breaking down the proteins into peptides and the dietary fats into smaller particles, both in order to facilitate digestion.

When it comes to enzymes, the pancreas plays an essential role in producing a large amount of amylase, lipases, and proteases, allowing the optimal absorption of nutrients within the small intestine.

Finally, the wall of the small intestine also secretes digestive enzymes, the best known of which is lactase, which has the role of breaking down lactose into glucose and galactose.

What happens if you don’t have enough digestive enzymes?

If your body does not produce enough digestive enzymes, then you may have difficulty digesting certain foods and they will therefore not be broken down into smaller molecules which are absorbable by the intestine.

Malabsorption, caused by the lack or absence of digestive enzymes, can cause gastrointestinal disorders such as gas, bloating, abdominal pain, cramps, diarrhea…

In the longer term, it could also lead to undernutrition and weight loss.

Why is the body not producing enough digestive enzymes?

Several situations can diminish the production of digestive enzymes. Among them are:

  • Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) resulting from damage to the pancreas that can be caused, in particular, by chronic pancreatitis, alcohol abuse, pancreatic cancer, genetic diseases (such as cystic fibrosis and Shwachman-Diamond syndrome), and inflammation associated with digestive diseases such as Crohn’s disease.
  • Damage to the walls of the small intestine leading to difficulties with digesting lactose, as may be the case for people with celiac disease.
  • Age: over time the digestion of lactose may become more difficult due to a decrease in the enzyme lactase. In addition, people of Asian, African, or Hispanic origin have a greater propensity to develop lactase deficiency.
  • Hereditary or genetic mutations.
  • Intestinal dysbiosis, that is, an imbalance in the equilibrium of bacteria in the intestine. This can be caused, among other things, by a very restrictive and not very diversified diet, or an insufficient intake of dietary fiber, especially prebiotic fiber.

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Jennifer Morzier
Jennifer is a Registered Dietitian graduated from the University of Montreal in December 2018 and is a member of the Ordre professionnel des diététistes du Québec (OPDQ). She believes that the quality of our food choices has a direct impact on our health and energy level. Her goal? To help people improve the quality of what they put in their plates, for their better well-being and greater pleasure.

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