How do I know if I need a digestive enzyme?
By Aidanne MacDonald-Milewski, ND • May 20, 2021
What are enzymes and how do they work?
Enzymes are proteins that our body makes in order to carry out certain functions. They help us with nearly every aspect of life, including converting our food into energy, synthesizing DNA, building muscle and making hormones. When the mouth, pancreas, stomach and intestines in particular make enzymes, they are geared to help us break our meals down in order to obtain nutrition from the foods we eat.
Enzymes often end with the suffix “-ase” and each serve a unique role in digestion. Amylase is formed in the saliva and pancreas to break down starches and carbohydrates into sugars that can be absorbed for use as energy or fuel. Lactase breaks down lactose found in dairy products.
How will I know if I need one?
If we lack or insufficiently produce certain enzymes, we will have a harder time carrying out the desired function in the body. With regards to digestion, you may experience indigestion, heart burn, gas, bloating, cramping, altered bowel movements with possible undigested foods in the stool, fatigue, and nutrient deficiencies.
Aside from recognizing symptoms of enzyme deficiency, comprehensive stool testing (CST) can be helpful to shed light on whether enzymes or the organs that produce them may be at the root of the problem. For example, chymotrypsin is one test included in the CST that is a marker of pancreatic enzyme activity. A suppressed result would indicated that the pancreas needs additional enzymatic support.
How do I go about supporting my enzyme production?
Lifestyle changes and supplementation!
We live busy lives in a fast-paced world. Often, I have patients tell me they eat on the go or skip meals all together. Our body produces its own digestive enzymes in response to food cues around us. If our body is in a state of fight or flight (sympathetic nervous system response), we are not as apt to make our own digestive enzymes. Therefore, it is important to ensure that you take time (at least 15-20 minutes) to sit, have your meal, chew well and enjoy your food. Allowing your body time to respond to the sensory cues of food including what it looks like, what it smells like, and what it tastes like is key!
If you simply don’t have time to rest and digest while eating, then bringing external enzymes into the system through supplementation is always an option. Be sure to discuss with your Naturopathic doctor which digestive enzyme formula would be a best fit for you!
Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health practitioners with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.