Have you noticed that I’ve been going bonkers with posts regarding digestive function over the past 2-3 weeks? Can you guess why? The reason is that all health begins in your gut, all disease involves gut function, and your health will make huge strides when you improve upon gut function.
Some people have so many digestive issues that it is the primary cause of ALL of their other health issues. Problems like celiac, gluten intolerance, gliadin sensitivity, IBS, Crohn’s Disease, Colitis all involve various forms of digestive distress.
Digesting Your Food
If you missed the article from a few weeks ago, it does a good job explaining the fundamental digestive processes. This article will address the function of various digestive enzymes and which specific foods they help to digest.
First I’ll start by saying that many people do not and cannot properly digest their food. If you suffer from villous atrophy, intestinal dysbiosis, or mucosal barrier damage, the likelihood of you being able to properly digest and assimilate your food is quite low.
Consider that the tiny finger-like hairs in your small intestine secrete enzymes necessary for the final stage of carbohydrate digestion. if damaged, these micro-villi cannot supply the enzymes necessary to break down these foods. What happens?
- Small, undigested food particles pass into the blood causing immune reactivity and inflammation
- Nutrients aren’t assimilated
- Energy production is deficient
- Chronic health issues ensue
Digestive enzymes assist the body’s ability to properly digest food. In many cases they are absolutely essential for people with chronic digestive issues. If of good quality, and with a broad enough ph range, they will effectively digest protein, fat and carbohydrates that cannot be digested by your damaged digestive system.
The Function of Various Enzymes
Digestive enzymes break down fat, protein, carbohydrates and fiber. Plant based digestive enzymes have a wider ph range (3.0-9.0) than animal sourced enzymes (usually 6.0-8.0). Therefore plant-based digestive enzymes can work in both the pre-digestive stage of the stomach, and under the low ph conditions when hydrochloric acid is released. Animal-based enzymes with a higher ph range will only work if not broken down by stomach acid and in the environment of the small intestine and duodenum.
Protease – Protein digesting enzymes used to hydrolyze protein bonds. There are 6 different kinds of proteases. Protease enzymes work in the stomach, and also work in the duodenum where pancreatic proteases further shorten the long chain protein bonds, making them easier to assimilate. Protein chains that are not sufficiently broken down by enzymes present (due to inadequate enzyme levels) must be attacked by the immune system if too large. This can cause a lot of problems when dysbiosis and leaky gut is present.
Lipase – Fat digesting enzymes present in the stomach and duodenum. Fats are hydrolyzed by lipase enzymes until bile from the liver further emulsifies fat in the duodenum.
Amalyse – Carbohydrate digesting enzymes present in the mouth, stomach and small intestine. Many complex carbs contain raffinose and stachyose which the body cannot digest. The final stage of carbohydrate digestion occurs in the middle of the small intestine. The microvilli there secrete maltase, sucrase and lactose. If damaged or atrophied, these enzymes will not be secreted in sufficient amounts. If there is villous atrophy or damage to the mucosal barrier, supplementing with these 3 enzymes are essential if one eats dairy, grains, simple sugars or starches.
Alpha Galactosidase – is an enzyme that digests complex carbohydrates which are comprised of longer chains into sugars with smaller chains. This enzyme is important mostly for the digestion of legumes and cruciferous vegetables. This enzyme also helps to digest raw vegetables.
Cellulase – Breaks down cellulose from fiber.
Invertase – Breaks down simple sugars (sucrose). Especially important if there is villous atrophy in the small intestine.
Lactase – Breaks down lactose (milk sugar). Essential if consuming pasteurized dairy or if villous atrophy is present.
Maltase – Breaks down malt and grain sugars.
Hemicellulase – Helpful for converting polysaccharides from starches into glucose.
Betaglucanase – Breaks down various glucose bonds of gluten-containing grains: wheat, barley, rye, oats (does not contain gluten but does contain gliadin).
Phytase – Breaks down phytic acid, an enzyme inhibitor found in many fiberous vegetables and plant foods.
Sucrase – Breaks down sucrose (simple sugars). Essential if there is villous atrophy.
Xylanase- Breaks down a form of hemicellulose found in grains.