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Digestive enzymes unlock the nutrients in your food. They are categorized by the macronutrients that they release—proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
Raw foods are naturally rich in enzymes.
Vegetables and fruits contain plant enzymes that assist with their own digestion. Raw dairy also contains enzymes that help the body to break down milk sugars, which are often difficult to digest.
The modern diet is—for the most part—missing these important nutrients.
Enzymes are extremely sensitive to their environment. Heat and chemicals can denature an enzyme, or destroy its ability to unlock nutrients. Because of heavy processing, pasteurized and packaged foods often lack active enzymes. This means that the body must work harder than ever to break down and synthesize these foods.
As it turns out, the root of many digestive complaints is enzyme deficiency. This includes gas, bloating, abdominal pain, nausea, and heartburn.
You may be enzyme deficient because you are unable to synthesize enough enzymes to break down the food that you eat. Or, you may be deficient in enzymes because your body is unable to activate the enzymes necessary for digestion.
You could be deficient in enzymes if your body isn't able to activate the necessary enzymes for digestion. Symptoms like abdominal pain, skin rashes, brain fog, and mood swings are all signs of enzyme deficiency.
Digestive trouble is not the only thing to worry about when you are missing enzymes. Often, there is a constellation of symptoms that can involve:
- Skin rashes, acne, and eczema
- Brain fog, headaches, and mood swings
- Joint and myofascial pain
When it comes to enzyme deficiency, look for these telltale signs:
- Bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine (also known as SIBO)
- Trouble digesting fatty foods
Bacterial Overgrowth in the Small Intestine
Poor food combining and overeating can overwhelm the digestive system.
A meal that does not combine correctly—like meat and starchy potatoes— can give the digestive system mixed signals about which digestive juices and enzymes to release.
In the stomach, this can mean that enzymes never get activated. A high pH (or gastric juices that are alkaline) will not trigger pepsin, an enzyme that is essential for the complete digestion of food proteins.
In the small intestine, we see a “traffic jam.” Food particles stagnate. The bacteria that normally move through the small intestine also stagnate and begin to feast on the ready supply of food. The small intestine grows acidic. This is what is known as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, or SIBO.
When bacteria overrun the small intestine, problems quickly arise. This is because the small intestine is meant to smoothly shuttle food and bacteria from one end of the digestive tract to the other.
The pancreas releases enzymes called brush border enzymes. Brush border enzymes keep food and bacteria moving. (1) They require an alkaline environment. When the small intestine becomes too acidic, this environment can denature—or turn off—enzymes.
Up to 40% of people without enough pancreatic enzymes also have bacterial overgrowth. (2)
If you have bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine, you may:
- Feel heavy, bloated, sluggish, and even have cramping pain after meals
- Suffer from heartburn (3)
- Have myofascial pain, like fibromyalgia (4)(5)
Difficulty Digesting Fats
If you are unable to properly digest fatty foods, you may want to look to your pancreas and not only your gallbladder.
Signs of pancreatic enzyme deficiency or inactivity include:
- Bloating or cramping pain after meals
- Loose, greasy, foul-smelling stools
- Deficiency in fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K
Research tells us that pancreatic enzymes do much of the heavy lifting when it comes to breaking down fats. (6) If you are deficient in pancreatic enzymes or if they are inactive, you may have trouble digesting fats.
The enzyme responsible for digesting fats is lipase. Lipase has a short life in the small intestine and is sensitive to its environment. Besides having a short life, if the small intestine is too acidic, lipase does not do the job it was designed to do. (7)(8)
While you may intuitively remove hard-to-digest fats from your diet, studies show that fats in the small intestine actually prolong the life of the enzyme lipase. (9) In other words, carefully chosen fats can enhance your digestion of fatty foods.
7 Tips to Get Rid of Enzyme Deficiency
2. Try the Body Ecology Principle of Food Combining: Pair non-starchy vegetables and ocean vegetables with protein. Non-starchy vegetables and ocean vegetables do not require a strong alkaline nor a strong acidic condition to digest properly.
3. Try the Body Ecology Principle of 80/20: Leave a little room in the stomach (about 20%) for digestive enzymes to do their job.
4. Drink water alone: Because water can dilute your digestive enzymes, drink room-temperature water between meals.
5. Drink ginger tea: Research has found that ginger root has the ability to stimulate brush border enzymes and increase the activity of pancreatic enzymes. (10)(11) Drink ginger tea after meals or before bed for the best results.
6. Cook and prepare foods with coconut oil: Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides, which are directly absorbed. Coconut oil can stimulate the enzyme lipase—making fats easier to digest.
7. Make cultured vegetables a part of every meal: Cultured vegetables are naturally brimming with enzymes that enhance digestion.
What To Remember Most About This Article:
Digestive enzymes provide a critical benefit to your health since they are designed to unlock nutrients in the food you eat. Today, the Standard American Diet is often missing these all-important nutrients. Processed and packaged foods lack active enzymes, making the body work even harder to break down nutrients in food.
Enzyme deficiency may cause digestive issues, as well as other symptoms like:
- Mood swings
- Joint pain
If you suffer from bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine or have trouble digesting fatty foods, you could have an enzyme deficiency.
Here are 7 important tips to consider to get rid of an enzyme deficiency and get your digestion back on track:
- Use an enzyme supplement like Assist Full Spectrum, Assist SI, or Assist Dairy and Protein to support healthy digestion.
- Try the Body Ecology Principle of Food Combining to aid in digestion at each meal.
- Try the Body Ecology Principle of 80/20 to leave room for digestive enzymes after eating.
- Drink water between meals to prevent digestive enzymes from being diluted.
- Drink ginger tea to stimulate brush border and pancreatic enzymes after meals or before bed.
- Cook and prepare foods with coconut oil to stimulate the lipase enzyme and support fat digestion.
- Eat cultured vegetables at every meal to enhance digestion with natural enzyme support.
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- Pieramico O, Dominguez-Munoz JE, Nelson DK, Bock W, Buchler M, Malfertheiner P. Interdigestive cycling in chronic pancreatitis: altered coordination among pancreatic secretion, motility, and hormones. Gastroenterology 1995; 109: 224–30.
- Casellas F, Guarner L, Vaquero E, Antolin M, de Gracia X, Malagelada JR. Hydrogen breath test with glucose in exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. Pancreas 1998; 16: 481–6.
- K Miki, et al. High incidence of fermentation in the digestive tract in patients with reflux oesophagitis. Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2006 May;18(5):531-5.
- A Goebel, et al. Altered intestinal permeability in patients with primary fibromyalgia and in patients with complex regional pain syndrome. Rheumatology (Oxford). 2008 Aug; 47(8):1223-7. Epub 2008 Jun 7.
- M Pimentel, et al. A link between irritable bowel syndrome and fibromyalgia may be related to findings on lactulose breath testing. Ann Rheum Dis. 2004 Apr;63(4):450-2.
- Ferrone M, Raimondo M, Scolapio JS. Pancreatic enzyme pharmacotherapy. Pharmacotherapy. 2007;27(6):910-920.
- Holtmann G, Kelly DG, Sternby B, DiMagno EP. Survival of human pancreatic enzymes during small bowel transit: effect of nutrients, bile acids, and enzymes. Am J Physiol. 1997;273(2 Pt 1):G553-G558.
- Layer P, Jansen JB, Cherian L, Lamers CB, Goebell H. Feedback regulation of human pancreatic secretion. Effects of protease inhibition on duodenal delivery and small intestinal transit of pancreatic enzymes. Gastroenterology. 1990;98(5 Pt 1):1311-1319.
- Suzuki A, Mizumoto A, Rerknimitr R et al. Effect of bacterial or porcine lipase with low- or high-fat diets on nutrient absorption in pancreatic insufficient dogs. Gastroenterology 1999; 116: 431–7.
- Platel, K., & Srinivasan, K. Influence of dietary spices or their active principles on digestive enzymes of small intestinal mucosa in rats. International journal of food sciences and nutrition, 1996; 47(1): 55-59.
- Prakash, U. N., & Srinivasan, K. Beneficial influence of dietary spices on the ultrastructure and fluidity of the intestinal brush border in rats. British Journal of Nutrition, 2010; 104(1): 31.
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