Digestive Enzymes: What They Are, What They Do, and How They Affect Stomach Health

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Do you often experience abdominal pain or other stomach-related problems such as constipation, diarrhea, reflux (heartburn) and so on? Have you gained excessive weight and/ or have difficulty losing weight despite keeping a strict check on your diet? Or worse still, are you losing weight without making any conscious efforts on your behalf?

If even one of the above conditions seems to fit your case, then beware! It might be indicative of a problem with your digestive system.

Most people treat such stomach issues very lightly until they become too severe to be ignored. Unfortunately, at least 1 in every 5 American suffers from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and most of them are unaware of how it can be treated. Based on diagnosis, doctors normally suggest lifestyle changes (exercising, healthy eating, reducing stress etc) as the most non-invasive form of treatment. Despite this, many patients doubt the effectiveness of these changes and prefer going on heavy medications instead.  This is usually because they are oblivious of digestive enzymes present naturally in the body and the beneficial effects that they have on stomach health.

Digestive Enzymes and their Purpose in the Human Body

You might already know that enzymes are biological catalysts that support various functions in our body. Digestive enzymes are those that specifically aid digestion and therefore, support gut health.

Various organs in our body produce digestive enzymes including the pancreas, liver, small intestine, and stomach as well as the salivary glands located underneath the tongue. The main purpose of these enzymes is to break down the large food molecules into much smaller ones so that they can be easily absorbed into the bloodstream and transported to the required cells within the body.

Types of Digestive Enzymes

Digestive enzymes are of different types – each type helps break down different food molecules to deliver the nutrients to the body. The three main classes are as follows.

  1. Proteolytic Enzymes – needed to digest protein
  2. Amylases – required to break down carbohydrates
  3. Lipases – needed to break down large fat molecules

Proteolytic enzymes like pepsin are found in gastric juices and produce polypeptides from protein molecules. Amylases are found in the saliva and pancreatic juices and their primary aim is to break down large starch molecules into a smaller compound called maltose. Similarly, lipases are produced in the pancreas and helps in digesting fatty acids.

Together, these digestive enzymes turn the complex food particles into useful substances like amino acids, glucose, nucleic acids, good cholesterol, and fatty acids that are either stored up by the body or use in other biological reactions to keep the organs healthy and strong.

Digestive Enzymes and Stomach Health

By enabling complete and proper breakdown of the food we eat, digestive enzymes do not just alleviate stomach discomfort and prevent constipation, but also improve nutrient absorption and prevent deficiencies. Although further research is still needed to say this for sure, but clinical trials show promising results for the use of supplemental digestive enzymes in  treating IBS.

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