How your enzymes keep you healthy

Digestive enzymes have recently been subjected to microscopy, with imaginative claims that they can do everything from treating depression to helping you lose weight.

People have long known that eating can make them feel happier, give them more energy and excitement for life and of course help them lose weight.

But what if your digestive system does not effectively break down healthy foods? Since your entire body is running on these vital nutrients, the inability to effectively break down food can affect your entire body in a variety of ways. However, there are some common symptoms you may notice in case of death of your digestion:

  • Feeling bloated for days at a time
  • Chronic flatulence
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Symptoms similar to irritable bowel syndrome
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Unwanted food in the stool
  • Steatorrhea (floating faeces)
  • Feeling complete after just a few bottles
  • Food allergies and intolerances

These issues, if left untreated, can cause more complex issues such as obesity, depression, anxiety, fatigue and pre-menstrual symptoms.

What do enzymes have to do with it? Enzymes are the way the body breaks the food into the nutrients it needs to function. At each stage of digestion – from your mouth to the large intestine – various enzymes are released that help break down different nutrients. Linguistic lipase, for example, begins to break down lipids (fats) into the mouth, with gastric lipase taking up the work in the stomach and so on.

If any part of this digestive trail lacks the proper enzymes, your food will not break properly and you will begin to take a heavy, inflatable, rock-like " feeling in your stomach.

Why do not you have enough enzymes? There are many possible causes. Some common causes include:

Chronic stress – When you stress or worry, the body is ready to protect by moving the blood supply away from your digestive tract to your ready to fight or run (the so-called battle or flight reaction). If you are patient, your body never returns to the relaxed state (resting and digestion) that is necessary for digestion.

Aging – The amount of digestive enzyme decreases as you get older. It is not entirely clear whether this is absolutely natural or whether it is the accumulation of other issues, such as alcohol, smoking crash or long-term anxiety.

Low Stomach Acid – Stomach acid is necessary to break down food, kill pathogens and activate certain enzymes. Acid-lowering stomach medications are some of the most prescriptive in the UK. But there are many other causes for these problems, and antacids could make the underlying issue worse than better.

Low inflammation of the digestive system – Often caused by infections, food sensitivities, certain foods such as coffee, sugar and highly processed foods or disorders in the organisms living in the intestine.

Supporting enzymes with supplements

If you think you may be suffering from enzyme deficiency, one of the quickest and easiest ways to correct it is to take enzyme supplements.

There are three main sources of enzymes used in supplements: those derived from fruits such as pineapple and papaya, those derived from animal sources and those derived from microbial sources (fungi and bacteria, including yeast). However, not all sources of enzymes are equal.

Pineapple and Papaya – Both sources contain enzymes that help break down proteins. The benefit of these is that they are vegan and, if you eat the fruits, they contain other nutrients such as fiber and vitamins. But these enzymes may find it difficult to get intact stomach acid intact just to help break down the protein, limiting their helpfulness.

Animal sources – These sources contain the enzymes needed to break down proteins, fats and carbohydrates into the small intestine. Unfortunately, enzymes from these sources are unstable, which limits their effectiveness. In addition, pancreatin – an ordinary animal enzyme – can limit the body's ability to absorb vitamin B folic acid.

Microbial Sources – These enzyme supplements contain all the essential enzymes needed to break down the food. The added benefit of these enzymes is that they can help break down plant foods such as beans and legumes, as well as cellulose that is found in plants. They are also very stable and can easily make the stomach acid past unaffected.

If, like many, you move to a plant-based diet, or you hope to lose weight through healthy eating, then microbial enzyme sources are particularly helpful. They also supplement enzymes naturally produced in the pancreas instead of "overriding" the physical system.

Ultimately, the hope is that you can move away from supplements when your digestive enzymes are back in balance, so it's best to take supplements that support your natural processes by undergoing these procedures and potentially weaken the production of natural enzymes.

There are other things you can do to support the natural balancing process, for example: to reduce or eliminate foods that can cause inflammation of the bowel from your diet, make sure you drink enough water, things down a bit, get your time to eat with chewing later and spend some time relaxing after you have eaten

Kim Barnouin is the author of New York Times's bestselling book "Skinny Bitch" and founder of the Skinny Bitch Weight Loss Approach, based on three key pillars: nutrition, exercise and effective completion. Skinny Bitch offers a number of weight loss programs, recipes and food products to help you lose weight physically and healthily.