Not Right in the Gut? Take Enzymes!
Food Enzymes 101
About 10 years ago, I realized that the bizarre and painful episodes of bloating I experienced in highschool and early college were directly correlated with the consumption of lattes and ice cream. Took Captain Obvious about 3 years to connect the dots on the lactose factor there.
Though an inability to break down the milk sugar lactose is related to an inability to produce enough of the enzyme lactase (a condition occurring in at least 65% of the world's adult population), I partially overcame that obstacle by taking lactase enzymes whenever I just had to have a little bit of Ben & Jerry's or a tall Frappucino.
However - I learned to be receptive to my gut’s communication attempts, and started avoiding milk. In return, my body thanked me by letting go of about 10 lbs, and having way fewer allergy/mucusy issues. (#FREEEDOM!!!)
Since then, I’ve come to pay attention to how I feel after eating. I started realizing that I feel SO much better when my body gets the enzymes it needs to break down my food.
Food comas, sluggishness, overly-full-ness, weight gain, and gas are no match for a good food enzyme supplement. So when it comes to weight loss, cleansing, and New Years’s Resolutions, this is one topic that is near and dear to my heart and GI.
Better Digestion: A Hot Topic
Many people are experiencing mild to severe digestive discomfort these days. They are starting to pay attention to their bodies’ cries for help, and are experimenting with eliminating “problem foods”, be it dairy, legumes, meat, or even vegetables like broccoli and kale.
The latter 3 are very nutritious, valuable foods, and are easily digestible for almost everyone… with proper digestive support. I HIGHLY encourage you to start taking digestive enzymes first instead of going on strike against superfoods and beneficial things like kale, cabbage and (high quality) beef. But feel free to go ahead and ditch that daily dose of gelato. ;)
(Sidenote: Meat is ESPECIALLY difficult to digest if our gut isn’t in tip-top shape. We need lots of stomach acid and enzymes to break it down!)
There are different enzymes for helping your gut break down meat, fat, and starches, and our body generally makes fewer of them as we age. If the undigested food particles remain in the gut, they cause a large amount of decay and toxin-production over time which, in turn, contributes to a host of immune issues and diseases.
Since the whole of the body's health starts with a healthy gut, supplementing with HIGH QUALITY digestive enzymes is really important if we want to keep our body's powerhouse serving the rest of our body well in the years to come!
What are Enzymes?
Enzymes are little catalysts that are responsible for important chemical reactions in our body. They’re often described as keys that are needed to open certain locks.
Digestive enzymes help break down food so we can absorb it. They’re sort of like scissors that are perfectly matched to certain types of food to cut it into usable pieces.
Without the enzymes, our body can’t use the food particles to give us those nutrients we need…and the particles will sit and decay in our gut (yuck!) causing bloating and long-term inflammation.
(If you’re a biochemist, this may be painfully oversimplified for you. But for the rest of us who aren’t - enzymes work like this:)
Main Groups of Digestive Enzymes
Some of the most familiar digestive enzymes are:
Lactase (breaks down Lactose)
Protease (breaks down Protein into amino acids)
Lipase (breaks down Lipids/Fats)
Amylase (breaks down Starches/Sugars from grains)
Cellulase (breaks down Cellulose starch in vegetables like broccoli)
Other helpful enzymes in breaking down meat (because no one wants decaying animal flesh just sitting around in their gut, right???) are Bromelain (found in raw pineapple) and Papain (found in raw papaya). These are an important part of any cleanse and daily weight management, because they break down parasites, bacteria, are anti-tumoral, and reduce excessive inflammation - even the kind associated with chronic colitis!
Many people (including in several clinical studies!!) have lost plenty of weight from adding needed food enzymes to their meals. But the necessity for food enzymes goes far beyond just weight loss.
What Happens if We Lack Food Enzymes?
If we don’t have enough enzymes in our gut (because we’re eating the American diet), and, if we don’t supplement with them, then we won’t break down our food or digest it well.
Heartburn/Reflux/Indigestion - if this is you, choose an enzyme supplement with Betaine HCL, and take it 30 min before every meal. We NEED plenty of stomach acid and enzymes when we eat our meals to break down that food, and most Americans don’t have what it takes…so that food sits there in a lump, undigested. After an hour or so, the stomach then panics, gathers all the reinforcements, and overcompensates by dumping TONS of acid, desperate to get that food moving. This, is heartburn and acid reflux.
Taking antacids or PPIs make most people even less able to break down their meals, compounding the problem! Read this article on how to safely address the root of heartburn. Give your stomach what it needs to break down that meal, and you’ll have no more acid “overcompensation.”
Weight Gain - when the body isn’t absorbing nutrients, it sometimes thinks we’re in a food shortage and are starving. So it converts things to fat as a precaution to help us survive (Think of camels in the desert storing their nutrients in their fat hump, and bears surviving from their stored fat while they hibernate for months!).
Additionally - undigested food makes toxins, and the body typically packs on a layer of fat around the area of toxins to protect our vital organs. Furthermore - without proper starch enzymes to break down starches and sugars like amylase (which then helps regulate our glucose levels), spiking blood sugar often leads to weight gain.
Candida/Yeast Infections: If we don’t break down and digest those food particles, not ONLY are we starving our bodies of the precious nutrition we need to thrive, but we are causing decaying food matter (double-yuck) to feed hosts of bad bacteria and the Candida fungus - which leads to yeast infections, hormone problems, leaky gut syndrome and more (read more on Candida symptoms here)!! YIKES!
Poor food breakdown also contributes to a host of health issues like:
inflammation in various places (causing joint pain, back issues, acne, etc.)
blood sugar problems
Here’s an article by Dr. Axe how enzymes work and can prevent those conditions.
Where do Enzymes Come From?
Raw fruits and vegetables and other natural substances in nature, ideally, have enzymes that help us. But cooking the foods, or spraying them with pesticides, or growing them in over-farmed, depleted soil significantly reduces their enzyme content.
Our body, ideally, produces enzymes on its own as well - but nowadays the average American body produces far fewer than it should for optimal health.
What Hurts our Body’s Own Enzyme Production?
Consuming conventional, pesticide-laced grains & produce (i.e., anything not organic)
Aging (for every 10 years we age, our enzyme production decreases by 13%!)
Genetics (some ethnicities produce more enzymes for certain foods than others depending on their ancestral diets)
What Can I do to get Enough Enzymes?
Eat lots of raw fruits with enzymes, like papaya, pineapple, and kiwi, daily. Cooked/canned fruits have no living enzymes.
Eat lots of spices like fenugreek and ginger.
Eat fermented foods like raw sauerkraut and apple cider vinegar at all your meals.
OR…if you’re a normal American and that all sounds a bit too wacky - just get your hands on a high quality enzyme supplement and take it with your meals!
Your energy levels, weight loss efforts, blood sugar levels and more will all benefit greatly!