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Enzyme supplementation – a cautionary tale

Enzyme supplementation – a cautionary tale

The production of digestive enzymes decreases by about 10 per cent each decade after the age of 20. This naturally occurring decrease in enzymes reduces the ability to completely digest our foods, resulting in fermentation of these products further down the digestive tract. Digestion can also be adversely affected by stress, prescription medications, inadequate chewing (see May’s newsletter re that!), and eating “on the run”.

Many digestive enzyme supplements contain pancreatic enzymes from animal sources, mainly pigs. Morally questionable and possibly physiologically inept. There is some doubt whether even an enteric-coated capsule can protect animal pancreatic enzymes from the acidic environment of the stomach. Recent studies suggest that vegetable (plant derived) enzymes on the other hand, possess a higher stability
and activity throughout a wide pH range compared to animal enzymes. These enzymes are cruelty-free and of course suitable for vegetarian use. To check an enzyme supplement for animal products look for the following key words – porcine, pancreatin, whole pancreas extract or simply animal-derived.

How to take your enzymes
If you suspect enzyme deficiency, what is the best way to take digestive enzymes? Pancreatic enzymes need to pass through the stomach, where they are very susceptible to being destroyed by gastric acid and pepsin, and then find their way safely to the small intestine. Moreover, once they do reach the safe environment of the intestine, they must be rendered capable of breakdown in this desired environment.

Look for products which contain a broad spectrum of enzymes – amylase, protease, lipase, trilactase (otherwise known as lactase), this will ensure proteins, carbohydrates, dietary fats and lactose are all effectively dealt with. Helpful too if your digestive enzyme contains bromelain and papain, derived from pineapple and papaya respectively, which are excellent forms of proteolytic enzymes capable of digesting proteins. Be careful if you have sensitivity to either of these fruits though.

Depending on the strength of the capsule and size of your meal, a general rule of thumb for dosage is two capsules no longer than thirty minutes prior to meals. If taken just before a meal they will have time to mix with the food to help initiate the digestive process. As the pH in the stomach decreases, some enzymes can be inactivated.

Research has shown that taking digestive enzymes may actually have a sparing effect on our own enzymes. It appears that a portion of the enzymes secreted by our pancreas are transported back through the blood after use, for re-secretion. Very economical. Oral enzyme supplementation may therefore allow conservation of the body’s own digestive enzymes by contributing to the pool of enzymes available for re-circulation.

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