DIGESTIVE ENZYMES – WHAT IS A DIGESTIVE ENZYME?
In our last blog, we discussed probiotics and how they can potentially benefit an athlete if you suffer from inflammation in your digestive tract. Fixing the walls of your intestines will enable your body to produce the digestive enzymes required to break down the food particles. In this blog we will look at digestive enzymes and why they are so important for us. Strength athletes spend countless hours preparing meals, eating, and then planning the next meal. Ensuring we absorb the food is vitally important, that is the only way we will progress. Before we dive in its time for an interesting fact!
The human small intestine is approximately 6 meters long when stretched out. There is 2 type of intestines, small and large. The small intestine is where the majority of digestion takes place,
the diameter of the small intestine is roughly the size of the middle finger. The small intestine is a muscular tube made of 3 parts. The duodenum, which breaks down the food, the jejunum absorbs the food and so does the ileum. The inner surface of the small intestine is folded back, and forth which increases the surface area allowing for a greater chance for food absorption. Approximately 95% of the protein and carbohydrates are absorbed in the small intestine. The large intestine basically removes water from the material left after absorption. The folded layers create an optimum scenario to maximize food absorption. The health of your intestines is important to ensure you get the most out of your diet. Foods rich in fiber, fermented fod, greens, fruits will help to keep your intestines in tip-top shape.
What are Digestive Enzymes?
Ingested food is broken down so that it can be absorbed and used for energy and muscle repair by your body. Digestive enzymes are proteins your body makes to break down the food into smaller absorbable nutrients. If your body is not functioning correctly, thereby not producing enough digestive enzymes, then your body will not be able to assimilate the food you have eaten. This is obviously not a condition that is optimum for your health.
Not being able to digest your food, can lead to various health issues such as:
Irritable bowel syndrome
When food is eaten, digestive enzymes are produced to help break down specific molecules in food. Production of digestive enzymes begins as soon as it enters your mouth. The saliva in your
mouth contains digestive enzymes that break down simple carbohydrates. The enzyme lactase is responsible for breaking down the milk sugar lactose. If the body is not generating enough of this enzyme / or even not producing it at all, you may be unable to digest milk or dairy products. This is what is commonly referred to as lactose intolerance. The body makes other digestive enzymes also and each one works on a certain type of nutrient molecule. These include:
- Amylase: splits starches and sugars into glucose, a type of sugar we can absorb
- Dipeptidyl peptidase IV (DPP-IV): breaks down casein and gluten
- Lipase: breaks down fats into absorbable components
- Maltase: converts certain sugars in grains into glucose
- Protease: breaks down proteins into amino acids
When food enters the stomach, hydrochloric acid (HCL), and the digestive enzyme pepsin, continue breaking down foods, especially proteins. The majority of digestive enzyme action takes place in the small intestine. When you start eating, hormones send a signal to the pancreas to produce these enzymes.
As food enters the small intestine, an enzyme- packed liquid is released from the pancreas to complete the job of freeing up nutrient molecules. Nutrients are then absorbed through the walls of your small intestine, and into the blood- stream.
Food that is not digested typically moves on to the large intestine where it eventually forms a stool and is excreted.
There are many reasons if your body is not producing adequate levels of digestive enzymes. These include the following:
Food intolerance-based inflammation
Leaky gut (please see our last blog)
If you believe your body may not be producing enough digestive enzymes, then I would recommend consulting your doctor and getting advice on what course of action to take.
Supplementing with Digestive Enzymes
Here are some reasons why it’s a good idea to supplement with digestive enzymes.
Diet Depletes our Enzymes – processed foods and all their additives, preservatives, and nitrates do not contain the digestive enzymes needed for proper digestion and nutrient absorption. Our diet increasingly consists of these types of foods, causing an enzyme deficiency. Even if you eat plenty of good-for-you fruits and vegetables, if you cook them, their enzymes are destroyed. Your body is then forced to “borrow” enzymes from other parts of your body just to digest the food you’re consuming, again leading to overall deficiency.
Some Healthy Foods Inhibit Enzymes – for example, raw peanuts, egg whites, seeds, beans and lentils contain enzyme inhibitors. They neutralize some of the enzymes produced by your body.
Conditions and Lifestyle – factors such as extreme temperatures (hot and cold), exercise and even illness can increase the rate at which our bodies use enzymes.
- Enzyme Levels Decrease Significantly with Age – We lose digestive enzymes through sweat and body waste. Through constant use, enzymes lose their strength and ability to do their work. As we age, the organs responsible for producing our digestive enzymes become less efficient. In fact, studies show that, every ten years, your body’s production of enzymes decreases by approximately 10 to 15 percent. So, by age 40, your enzyme production could be 25 percent lower than it was when you were a child. By the time you’re 70, you could be producing a mere one-third of the enzymes you need.
TAKE AWAY MESSAGE
Taking a digestive enzyme supplement before meals can give your body horsepower to tackle the process of breaking down your food, allowing for faster, easier digestion. That can equal less gas, bloating, and heartburn and more accessible nutrition. You will not benefit from eating right unless you are digesting those healthy foods. All the good nutrition in the world will do you no good unless you are properly digesting it, supporting digestion with digestive enzymes is a great way to support optimum health. Certainly, if you’re not recovering well, training is stagnant, and progress is minimal, but you have been eating correctly, then it’s worth looking into digestive enzymes.
Please feel free to leave your comments, I would like to hear from athletes who have used digestive enzymes and noticed a general improvement in your performance. If you have any questions regarding this article, please feel free to ask your questions. Till the next time my friends.....................CONQUER STRENGTH & STAY D3!