Why Digestive Enzymes are Important for Optimal Health

Digestive enzymes are the specialized proteins your body makes, that help to break down the food you eat into smaller, digestible nutrients that are more easily absorbed by our cells.

When we eat, what ever we eat has to be broken down into it’s smaller nutritional components, because our body does not absorb food. Our body absorbs the nutrients in the food we eat, and it’s those nutrients that can then be absorbed and utilized by our cells for energy, growth and repair.

When, or if, we do not have enough of a supply of digestive enzymes in our system, we can experience a range of digestive upsets that can greatly impact our overall health.

In order for our bodies to absorb the nutrients in food optimally, our body has to be able to break down the food that we eat into smaller, easily absorbed and digestible pieces. This is where digestive enzymes play an important role in the digestive process and in supporting excellent gut health.  Your body does make plenty of digestive enzymes to support healthy digestion however, as we get older our bodies tend to produce less of those enzymes. This does not mean you are destined to be plagued by digestive issues and poor health going into your mid-life and senior years, but it is important to remember that healthy, balanced nutrition and eating

Your body is able to make plenty of digestive enzymes you need to support healthy digestion however, as we get older our bodies tend to produce less of those enzymes, so it is important to remember that healthy, balanced, nutrition and eating a variety of whole foods will support excellent digestive health into our senior years.

How does good nutrition play a role in digestive enzymes? Well, most raw foods contain naturally occurring digestive enzymes, however this isn’t enough to support healthy digestion completely.  Why?  The problem is this . . . the more processed and refined the foods are that we choose to eat, the more digestive enzymes our body needs to produce by itself to properly absorb nutrients.

So, let’s talk a little more about a few of the digestive enzymes our bodies make and what nutrients they target in the digestive process.  Now there are several digestive enzymes that our body produces, but I’m only going to mention a couple because there’s a good chance that many of you may have heard of one, or all of these at some point:

Amylase – helps to break down sugars and starches into glucose Protease – helps to break down proteins into amino acids

Lipase – helps to break down fats into fatty acids and glycerol

Maltase – breaks down certain sugars in grains into glucose

Pepsin – breaks down proteins into peptides

Trypsin – breaks down proteins into amino acids

So why else are digestive enzymes important? Think of it  like dominoes . . . one triggers the next one, which triggers the next one, and so on.  Digestive enzymes make it possible for our body to absorb specific nutrients. If our body is able to absorb maximum nutrition from the food we eat, then that translates into a “healthier us,” and part of that is the ability to maintain good gut health.

At this point you may be wondering if it is necessary to supplement your diet with digestive enzymes … particularly if you are into your senior years? You may also be wondering if there is anything that can be done “naturally” to correct or balance out your digestive enzymes? Once again, I’m going to, and I’m always going to, recommend that you have a conversation with your family physician, especially if you do have an existing digestive disease.

In all likelihood, if you are someone living with a digestive disease/ condition, conversations with and recommendations from your family physician are probably a regular part of your health maintenance plan and a proactive approach to a healthy lifestyle for you.

However, if you are someone who is starting to notice that “things just don’t feel right,” whereas before there really wasn’t an issue, there are certainly options to consider to help better support a healthy digestive system. But first and foremost, make an appointment with your doctor.

None of the following foods are cures for chronic digestive upset, digestive diseases or conditions, however, they are all very high in naturally occurring digestive enzymes and including them as part of your regular diet may help to alleviate some mild symptoms you may be noticing.

Kefir – Kefir is a drink made from milk, fermented enzymes and yeast. It is similar to yogurt without the creaminess. Not only does kefir have naturally occurring digestive enzymes, it also has a healthy dose of gut-friendly bacteria.

Pineapple – Pineapple contains cysteine proteinases which help to break down and better digest proteins.

Papaya – Papaya contains the enzyme papain which helps to digest meats and other “tough to digest” proteins.

Sauerkraut – Fermented foods like sauerkraut are great in supporting healthy digestion.

Miso – Miso is a paste made from fermented soy beans, rice or barely and salt. It is common in Asian dishes, however, it can be added to many dishes as a flavor enhancer, while also supporting healthy digestion.

Kiwi – A tiny but mighty fruit that contains actinidin, which also helps in the digestion of proteins.

So if anything, I hope your bid take-away from reading this is that digestion is a MASSIVE process that incorporates many of your body’s systems. If you have been neglectful in your nutrition and making less then healthy choices for a number of years, your body may start to respond less favorably as a result of those choices. It does not mean that you cannot work to create a healthier digestive environment and balance.  It also doesn’t mean that you can never again enjoy foods that you like.

It does mean, however, that you need to be honest with yourself about the choices you’ve been making up to this point in your life and what choices you are now willing to make moving forward. 

Cheers to a healthier you!

Author: Tonya

Tonya is a Board Certified Holistic Health Practitioner & has over 25 years experience working in the health, fitness & wellness industry as a coach & nutrition counselor. She is also an international women's figure athlete, having represented Canada & New Zealand.

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