Updated: Mar 30, 2020
Or should I say lack of enzymes.
Gut bacteria get a lot of attention as an area you may need to consider when faced with poor digestion, uncomfortable symptoms or a gut condition. Rightly so, they are key players in metabolism, nutrient absorption and protection from unwanted yeasts, parasites and bacteria (1).
However, your digestive system is a complicated machine and needs help beyond bacteria, in the form of bile, acids and enzymes to help it function optimally.
What are enzymes and why are they important?
Enzymes are proteins that control chemical reactions. Digestive enzymes speed up the breakdown of food into their building blocks. e.g. protein present in fish is broken down into amino acids.
In the human body, over 3,000 different enzymes have been identified, but some believe we may have anywhere from 50,000 to 70,000 enzymes (2). Each of these enzymes are specific in its action and interacts in a 'lock and key' way. In the case of digestion an example of this is the enzyme protease (the lock) and its specific interaction with protein (the key) (3).
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Where do enzymes work and how do they work?
Enzyme reactions occur alongside the cells lining your gut wall. Their action starts in your mouth, which is why it is not recommended to inhale your food.
Your saliva contains amylase and lipase enzymes that begins breaking down starch/carbohydrates and fats, respectively.
Protease (pepsin) and hydrochloric acid begin breaking down proteins.
The pancreas joins the party and supplies pancreatic enzymes in the form of protease (trypsin) to help protein breakdown, lipase for fats and amylase for starches and carbohydrates.
Your intestines contain more enzymes including peptides which continue breaking down protein, and carbohydrate/sugar specific enzymes including sucrase, lactase and maltase.
Bile from your liver is also present in the small intestine to break down fat globules into smaller droplets.
Symptoms and consequences of low enzymes
Nutritional deficiencies due to your inability to absorb fats and certain vitamins and minerals properly.
Difficulty digesting carbohydrates, proteins and fats (4). resulting in myriad of digestive symptoms including indigestion and diarrhoea.
Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), a condition that commonly presents as burping, reflux, bloating, fatigue and constipation,
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (5).
How to increase low enzymes
If you resonate with any of these symptoms of have a gut feeling something else must be going on, try some these helpful tips and suggestions to optimise your enzymes or reach out to get some individualised, professional support.