by Kari Collett, RDN, LDN, CLT
Mille Lacs Health System
We’ve all heard the expression that we are what we eat, but it’s probably more accurate to say that we are what we assimilate. In other words, we are what we are able to absorb from our foods. For some, even if they eat a nearly perfect diet with lots of servings of fruits and vegetables each day, they may not be healthy if they can’t get the nutrients out of their food.
One thing that helps our body absorb nutrients is digestive enzymes. Digestive enzymes are the active components produced by the body that help break down food into singular molecules. Singular nutrient molecules can then be absorbed by the body and used for various processes and functions. If for some reason our body doesn’t make enough enzymes or they are not working as well as they should, food particles don’t break down far enough for our digestive system to absorb them and consequently the body doesn’t get the nutrients. Nutrient deficiencies can result, which in turn could cause multiple health problems.
Many people are at risk of digestive enzyme deficiency without realizing it. Specifically, anyone with a digestive disorder such as Crohn’s disease, GERD, IBS, ulcerative colitis, diarrhea or constipation, or diverticulitis is likely enzyme deficient. People with low stomach acid are also at risk of low enzyme production. More people have low stomach acid than too much stomach acid. Lastly, the simple process of aging also puts people at risk of enzyme deficiency. Anyone over the age of 50 should be aware of this possibility.
Fortunately, the supplement form of digestive enzymes are fairly easy to obtain and administer. Depending on the formula, some enzymes are taken before the meal, some during. A good enzyme supplement will include three basic types of enzymes: protease for digesting protein; lipase for digesting fat; and amylase for digesting carbohydrates. Individuals differ in how much of an enzyme they should take; start low and work up to more as needed. A person has enough digestive enzymes when most of their symptoms subside.
Even if a person does not have any of the digestive conditions listed above or is younger than 50 years of age, taking enzymes may still be beneficial. Improved digestion directly links to improved nutrient assimilation which leads to better health. Don’t we all want better health?
Thinking digestive enzymes might be of value to your health but aren’t sure? Contact your health care provider or dietitian to learn more.