A great meal should leave you fueled up and energized. But for some of us the opposite may be true. If you sometimes feel heavy and sluggish after eating, there’s a good chance your digestive system is slow to get into gear. 

The good news is it’s easy to give your digestive system the kick start it needs with a little extra digestive enzyme support. Read on to learn how to lose occasional tummy discomfort to feel and function at your best.*

Digestive Enzymes: What They Are and What They Do

Digestive enzymes are proteins that help break down food. To get a little science-y, they trigger and speed up the chemical reactions that transform macronutrients so your intestine can absorb them. 

There are three main types of digestive enzymes—each creates a unique chemical reaction to break down specific nutrients. 

  • Amylase—transforms starches into sugars
  • Lipase—turns lipids (fats and oils) into fatty oils and glycerol
  • Protease—converts proteins into amino acids

Most of the players in the digestive process contain or release digestive enzymes, including your pancreas, liver, gallbladder, saliva, and cells on the surface of your intestines.

Digestive Enzymes Get To Work

At a high level, digestion occurs in two steps. You perform step one, biting, chewing, and swallowing to get food and drink—or nutrition—into your body. This step is easy; eating to live is what we do. 

Step two is where it gets complicated. Your chicken Caesar salad doesn’t automatically release macronutrients, glucose, and fiber into your body. It needs a little help. This is where digestive enzymes take a starring role. Your digestive tract is like a conveyor belt. As food travels along, digestive enzymes take turns to break food down and release the goodness from it, until all that’s left is waste. 

Your body can’t absorb a bite-sized chunk of food—not even nibble-sized. Digestive enzymes transform your meals into microscopic molecules your small intestine can ingest and transport around the body.

The Digestion Process Featuring Digestive Enzymes

Let’s look at what happens to your food once you take a bite.

1. Your salivary glands contain several enzymes, including amylase, which converts carbohydrates into simple sugars.

2. When food hits your stomach, your stomach wall releases pepsin—otherwise known as a protease. Along with stomach acid, pepsin turns fats and carbohydrates into a liquid called chyme.

3. Food then enters your pancreas to further dissemble macronutrients into useful components, like amino acids, peptides, fatty acids, or glycerol.

4. Finally, enzymes in your small intestine perform the final macronutrient breakdown. Your food is now utterly unrecognizable but in an optimal absorption state.

So, you see, although you can’t feel them, digestive enzymes are constantly hard at work.

Listen to Your Gut

You’ll know if your body doesn’t produce enough digestive enzymes because you’ll feel it in your gut—literally. Enzyme activity helps you digest food effectively to keep your digestive system running smoothly*.

Some people have digestive issues that prevent them from making enough enzymes. In these cases, taking a digestive enzyme supplement can support the body’s natural enzyme production. 

Boost Your Digestive Enzymes

A healthy digestive system benefits more than just your stomach. It also:

  • Maintains mental clarity*
  • Gives you more oomph in your step*
  • Supports mental health*
  • Maintains your immune system
  • Helps reduce irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms
  • Supports healthy skin*

So, it pays to show your digestive system some love. And digestive enzyme supplements are an easy way to do just that. They offer relief from occasional fullness and bloating while helping to optimize macronutrient absorption. With plenty to choose from, look for one that provides high-quality digestive support to help balance your body*. 

Gut-Loving Enzyme-Packed Foods

Now that you’re raring and ready to treat your tummy right, it’s time to add some digestive-enzyme-friendly (and delicious) foods to your diet. Here are a few you can try.

Mango

This tropical fruit is rich in amylase—great for breaking down carbohydrates for easier absorption. 

Bananas

Bananas are another tasty fruit full of amylase enzymes—and they’re packed with dietary fiber to support your digestive system.

Papaya

Papaya is a beautiful, pink tropical fruit high in protease papain, making it a superfood for meat digestion—perfect to combat those “I ate way too much” family barbecue meat sweats!

Honey

Pollen alone contains 5,000 different enzymes, which makes honey a potent, enzyme-producing powerhouse. Choose unprocessed varieties to reap the most benefits.

Avocados 

Toast-worthy, creamy avocado is high in healthy fats and contains lipase to break down fat molecules into easily absorbed fatty acids and glycerol.

Pineapple

No matter what side of the pineapple-on-pizza debate you fall, we all can agree pineapples are your best friend when it comes to digestive health. Rich in the protease bromelain, they help boost your body’s protein absorption.

Although digestive enzyme supplements won’t replace a healthy diet, they can provide extra support for those days when life’s too busy to stay on top of your nutrition. Try adding some digestive enzymes to your diet to see the difference a happy, healthy tummy can make.*

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Sources

Cite this article as:
Editorial Staff, "Digestive Enzymes and Why Your Stomach Loves Them," in Medicalopedia, March 30, 2021, [Permalink: https://www.medicalopedia.org/9638/digestive-enzymes-and-why-your-stomach-loves-them/].