Food With Enzymes For Digestion

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There are foods that include enzymes. These foods help to digest food in your stomach. This results in a better digestion of food, which helps you to get rid of unnecessary and harmful waste. The enzymes also help in building up new cells and tissues in our body.

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Food With Enzymes For Digestion

Digestive enzymes play a key role in breaking down the food you eat. These proteins speed up chemical reactions that turn nutrients into substances that your digestive tract can absorb.

Your saliva has digestive enzymes in it. Some of your organs, including your pancreas, gallbladder, and liver, also release them. Cells on the surface of your intestines store them, too.

Different types of enzymes target different nutrients:

  • Amylase breaks down carbs and starches
  • Protease works on proteins
  • Lipase handles fats

Natural Sources of Digestive Enzymes

Fruits, vegetables, and other foods have natural digestive enzymes. Eating them can improve your digestion.

  • Honey, especially the raw kind, has amylase and protease.
  • Mangoes and bananas have amylase, which also helps the fruit to ripen.
  • Papaya has a type of protease called papain.
  • Avocados have the digestive enzyme lipase.
  • Sauerkraut, or fermented cabbage, picks up digestive enzymes during the fermentation process.

If your body doesn’t make enough digestive enzymes, it can’t digest food well. That can mean stomachaches, diarrhea, gas, or other painful symptoms.

Some digestive disorders prevent your body from making enough enzymes, such as:

Lactose intolerance. This is when your small intestine doesn’t make enough of the enzyme lactase, which breaks down the natural sugar in milk called lactose. With a shortage of lactase, lactose in dairy products that you eat travels straight to your colon instead of getting absorbed into your body. It then combines with bacteria and causes uncomfortable stomach symptoms.

There are three kinds of lactose intolerance:

Primary. You are born with a gene that makes you lactose intolerant. The gene is most common in people of African, Asian, or Hispanic background. Your lactase levels drop suddenly as a child. Then you’re no longer able to digest dairy as easily. This is the most common type of lactose intolerance.

Secondary. Your small intestine makes less lactase after an illness, injury, or surgery. It can also be a symptom of both celiac disease and Crohn’s disease.

Congenital or developmental. From the time you are born, your body doesn’t make lactase. This is rare. You have to inherit the gene for this from both your mother and father.

People with lactose intolerance need to move their bowels a lot and have gas and bloating after eating or drinking dairy products like milk and ice cream. Some people can manage symptoms by eating smaller amounts of dairy. Others avoid dairy completely or choose lactose-free foods and drinks.

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). This can happen when another condition damages the pancreas. Common causes of EPI include:

  • Pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas
  • Pancreatic cancer, which starts in the tissues of your pancreas
  • Cystic fibrosis, a genetic condition that damages the lungs, digestive system, and other organs

To treat EPI, your doctor may suggest lifestyle changes, such as:

  • If you smoke, quit
  • Avoid drinking alcohol
  • Eat a low-fat diet
  • Take vitamin and mineral pills

Prescription medicine may also improve your symptoms.

Enzyme Supplements

You may have noticed digestive enzyme pills, powders, and liquids on the aisles of pharmacies or health and nutrition stores. These supplements may ease digestive disorder symptoms. Your age, weight, and other things determine the right dose. But remember, over-the-counter enzyme supplements are not regulated by the FDA the same way as prescription medicines. The makers of these products do not have to prove that they are effective.

Always talk to your doctor before trying any kind of supplement. More research is needed to study how safe they are and how well they work. But over-the-counter lactase supplements help many people with lactose intolerance, and there is a supplement that seems to help people digest the sugars that are in beans.

Experts do not recommend lactase supplements for children under age 4. Also, talk to your doctor about the pros and cons if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

Right now, most enzyme products are animal-based. Researchers predict that plant and bacteria-based products could be more common in the future.

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Digestive Enzymes and Digestive Enzyme Supplements

  • Morgan Denhard, MS, RD, LDN

Digestive enzyme supplements have gained popularity for their claims of treating common forms of gut irritation, heartburn and other ailments. But how do digestive enzymes work, and who really needs to add them to their diet? Morgan Denhard, a registered dietitian at Johns Hopkins Medicine, provides the answers you need.

What are digestive enzymes, and what do they do?

Naturally occurring digestive enzymes are proteins that your body makes to break down food and aid digestion. Digestion is the process of using the nutrients found in food to give your body energy, help it grow and perform vital functions.

“When you eat a meal or a snack, digestion begins in the mouth,” explains Denhard. “Our saliva starts breaking down food right away into a form that can be absorbed by the body. There are a lot of different points in the digestive process where enzymes are released and activated.”

Your stomach, small intestine and pancreas all make digestive enzymes. The pancreas is really the enzyme “powerhouse” of digestion. It produces the most important digestive enzymes, which are those that break down carbohydrates, proteins and fats.

Types of Digestive Enzymes

There are many digestive enzymes. The main digestive enzymes made in the pancreas include:

  • Amylase (made in the mouth and pancreas; breaks down complex carbohydrates)
  • Lipase (made in the pancreas; breaks down fats)
  • Protease (made in the pancreas; breaks down proteins)

Some other common enzymes are made in the small intestine, including:

  • Lactase (breaks down lactose)
  • Sucrase (breaks down sucrose)

What is digestive enzyme insufficiency?

Some people don’t have enough digestive enzymes, or their bodies don’t release the enzymes as they should. This means they can’t break down certain foods and absorb nutrients.

A few types of digestive enzyme insufficiency include:

  • Congenital sucrase-isomaltase deficiency: You don’t have enough sucrase to digest certain sugars.
  • Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency: EPI occurs when your pancreas doesn’t produce enough of the enzymes necessary to digest carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
  • Lactose intolerance: Your body doesn’t produce enough lactase, so you might have problems digesting the sugar naturally found in milk and dairy products.

Symptoms of Digestive Enzyme Insufficiency

Digestive enzyme insufficiency can lead to malnutrition or gastrointestinal irritation. Common symptoms include:

  • Belly pain or cramps
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas
  • Oily stools (bowel movements)
  • Unexplained weight loss

Talk to your doctor if these symptoms are persisting. These could be signs of gut irritation or could indicate a more serious condition.

Digestive Enzymes vs. Probiotics: What’s the difference?

Sometimes people confuse enzymes and probiotics. Both affect your digestion, but in very different ways. Probiotics are live organisms that make up the good bacteria in your gut. They help keep your digestive tract healthy, so they support the work your enzymes do. Unlike enzymes, probiotics do not have the ability to break down or digest food components.

Without good gut bacteria, you might experience symptoms similar to those of an enzyme insufficiency, such as bloating or gas, due to abnormal bacterial overgrowth or imbalance in your intestines.

What conditions can cause digestive enzyme insufficiency?

Some enzyme insufficiencies are genetic, which means they’re the result of an abnormal gene. Such a gene might be inherited from a parent, or a mutation can occur without a known cause. Enzyme insufficiencies can be congenital (present at birth) or develop over time.

Some disorders or medical treatments can lead to pancreatic enzyme insufficiency:

  • Chronic pancreatitis
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Gastrointestinal surgeries
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Any condition that disrupts your pancreas

Are there external sources of digestive enzymes?

Prescription digestive enzymes

People diagnosed with an enzyme insufficiency often need to take prescription digestive enzymes. These supplements help the body process food and absorb nutrients better. The most common and the only FDA-regulated enzyme replacement therapy is pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT). PERT is a medication your doctor prescribes that includes amylase, lipase and protease. It helps break down carbs, fats and proteins.

“About 90% of my patients with cystic fibrosis have pancreatic enzyme insufficiency. Many of them need PERT because their pancreas develops mucus and, over time, scar tissue. So it can’t release the enzymes as it should,” explains Denhard. “We also prescribe enzymes for patients with frequent pancreatitis. There’s ongoing research about the role of digestive enzymes in treating irritable bowel syndrome, but so far there’s no definitive evidence to suggest that enzymes can help with this condition.”

Over-the-counter digestive enzymes

Many people take over-the-counter digestive enzyme supplements for problems such as acid reflux, gas, bloating and diarrhea. These might contain amylase, lipase and protease. Some contain lactase and alpha-galactosidase (an enzyme the body doesn’t make, even in healthy people without enzyme insufficiency). Alpha-galactosidase can help break down a type of non-absorbable fiber called galactooligosaccharides (GOS), mostly found in beans, root vegetables and some dairy products. GOS is known to be beneficial, but it can cause gas and bloating in some individuals.

Denhard says it’s important to keep in mind that these over-the-counter digestive enzyme supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA. So the dosage, ingredients and enzyme concentration aren’t guaranteed, and their side effects are unknown. Some supplements make claims that aren’t supported by evidence, such as enzymes to promote weight loss or a flatter stomach.

“Overall, a healthy person really doesn’t need to take digestive enzyme supplements,” Denhard explains. “The best digestive enzymes are the ones our bodies make naturally, and they work best when you eat a whole food diet.”

Can I get digestive enzymes from the food I eat?

There’s no real evidence to suggest that enzyme-rich foods such as pineapples and avocados help your digestion. You’re better off building a well-balanced diet that contains fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains. These foods will naturally help support the work your digestive enzymes are already doing.

Denhard suggests cutting highly processed, fatty foods from your diet, especially fried foods. “It’s much more likely that someone will have GI irritation or other problems because of unhealthy foods, not an enzyme insufficiency,” she says.

8 Foods High in Digestive Enzymes for a Healthier Gut

Enzymes play a role in many of the chemical reactions in your body that keep you healthy and alive. They’re particularly important for your digestive health, as they help your body break down and absorb nutrients from the foods you eat.

What Are Enzymes?

Enzymes are biological catalysts that speed up chemical reactions, according to a November 2015 study in ​Essays in Biochemistry​. When an apple starts to turn brown from exposure to the air, for example, it’s because enzymes in the apple are reacting with the oxygen. There are several types of enzymes, and each has a specific function.

Digestive enzymes are involved in every part of the digestive process, from the time food enters the body until the time it’s eliminated. There are enzymes that help break down fats, carbs and proteins, and others that help with hydration, according to the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

You can get enzymes from a variety of sources. Your body produces some, while others are found in food. Eating foods with digestive enzymes as part of a well-balanced eating plan is a great way to support your health.

Types of Digestive Enzymes

According to the NIDDK, there are three main types of digestive enzymes that help break down macronutrients in your diet:

  • Proteases​ help with the breakdown of proteins, so your body’s tissues can repair and grow.
  • Amylases​ help break down starches, which provide most of the energy your body uses.
  • Lipases​ are enzymes that do the job of digesting fats. They break triglycerides down into fatty acids and glycerol.

Some of these digestive enzymes are found in fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and other foods. Keep scrolling for a list of foods with digestive enzymes.

Warning

Having high levels of amylases is a common biomarker for pancreatitis, according to a December 2017 review in ​Clinical Biochemistry​.

If you have or are at risk for the condition, eat foods that inhibit this enzyme instead. Barley may have this effect, according to an April 2015 study in ​Food Chemistry.

1. Pineapple

Pineapple is rich in an enzyme called bromelain, a protease that helps with protein-breakdown, according to a September 2016 paper in ​Biomedical Reports​. Bromelain may help reduce inflammation, particularly sinus and nasal inflammation. It’s also been linked to improved immune function and wound healing.

On top of that, bromelain has antimicrobial properties, per the ​Biomeidcal Reports​ research. The research found that it can help fight a type of bacteria called candida albicans, which may cause fungal infections.

2. Papaya

Papaya is full of papain, a protease which helps with protein digestion. Some research suggests that papain may help in relieving heartburn, according to Harvard Health Publishing.

Other research on papaya supplements show that it may be helpful in treating digestive symptoms, such as constipation, bloating and heart burn, per the results of a 2013 study in ​Neuro Endocrinology Letters​.

If you’re looking for something to add to your diet that might support your digestion, there’s no harm in cutting yourself a slice of papaya. Just make sure you don’t eat too much.

3. Honey

Honey has entire list of digestive enzymes. That makes it one of the most potent enzymatic foods out there. The enzymes in honey include amylase, diastase, invertase, glucose oxidase and alpha-glucosidase.

Diastase was found to help break down starch in a August 2017 study in ​Food Chemistry​. Similarly, amylase helps the breakdown of starch by turning it into sugars, according to March 2017 research in ​Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition​.

4. Bananas

Bananas share an enzyme with honey: amylase. As mentioned, amylases break down starch into sugars. Amylases cause the sweetening of bananas as they ripen, according to a March 2016 study in ​Scientifica​.

Bananas are also a nutritious source of maltase — the enzyme that breaks down malt sugars, food starches and absorbable glucose — according to January 2017 research in ​Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition​. Green bananas appear to be the most beneficial.

The scientists noted that cereals contain some maltase as well, but at a significantly lower concentration. And because bananas are a nutritious whole-food option, they’re better for your digestive health.

5. Kefir

Kefir is a fermented milk drink that has a sour taste and is frequently touted for its health benefits. It is loaded with one of the best digestive enzymes: proteases.

As mentioned earlier, proteases help break down proteins in your diet. Kefir also contains probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria that support your gut health.

6. Avocado

Avocado is a good source of lipase, according to a February 2016 review in ​Nutrition Issues in Gastroenterology​. Lipases break down fats into smaller fatty acids that are easier for the body to absorb.

Your pancreas makes lipase, but eating avocados may help support digestion in other ways. They’re also high in fiber and healthy fats.

7. Kimchi (and Other Fermented Foods)

Kimchi, a popular fermented food, contains protease, lipase and amylase. These enzymes are formed during the fermentation process, which enhances the nutritional value of vegetables, according to Janauary 2017 research in the Journal of Medicinal Food.

Other fermented foods that have naturally occuring digestive enzymes include miso, saurkraut and tofu.

8. Garlic

Good news for garlic-lovers: This delicious bulb is full of alliinase, according to a December 2018 study in ​Integral Blood Pressure Control.​ Alliinase has been linked to lower blood pressure, making it one of the best digestive enzymes for people at risk for heart problems.

Digestive Enzyme Deficiency

Some people are deficient in these compounds, making it difficult for them to eat certain types of food. Over time, nutrient deficiencies can lead to a variety of health issues.

According to Clinical Education, digestive enzyme deficiency symptoms may include:

  • Bloating
  • Flatulence
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • GI issues, such as IBS
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Undigested food in stools
  • Feeling full after eating very little

If left unaddressed, chronic enzyme deficiency can lead to:

  • Obesity
  • Allergies
  • Poor immune function
  • Fatigue
  • PMS
  • Crohn’s disease

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