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What are Digestive Enzymes?

Digestive enzymes are the enzymes present in the digestive tract that aid in the process of digestion.
Kanika Khara Apr 23, 2019
Digestion is a vital process in our body, wherein the food consumed is broken down into a simple form that can be absorbed by the body.
Mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum, and anus are the organs that form our digestive system. The process starts in the mouth with the chewing of food, continues in the stomach and small intestine where the food is chemically broken down by the digestive juices and enzymes; it finally gets completed in the large intestine.
Hence, the gastrointestinal or digestive tract comprises these digestive organs that take in food, digest it to extract the essential nutrients, as well as energy, and finally excrete the waste.

Information about the Enzymes

These enzymes facilitate the process of digestion by breaking down the food we eat, into nutrients that our body needs in order to function properly. Our body normally produces 22 different digestive enzymes, and each one of these enzymes is used for breaking down a specific type of food.
These enzymes are secreted by different glands in the body, including the salivary glands, stomach, pancreas, and glands in the small intestines. These enzymes also have specific sites of action, which include the oral cavity, the stomach, the duodenum, and the jejunum.
In the oral cavity, a digestive enzyme called ptyalin (a type of ╬▒-amylase) is released by the salivary glands. This enzyme digests or breaks down starch containing long chain of glucose molecules into small segments of multiple sugar and individual soluble sugars.
After the oral cavity, it is the stomach that releases these enzymes. The enzymes that are released by the stomach are called gastric enzymes. Pepsin is a peptidase (gastric enzyme) that breaks or digests proteins into small fragments called peptides.
After the stomach comes the pancreas, which is the main digestive organ in the body. It secretes digestive enzymes like trypsin and chymotrypsin, which are peptidases that break proteins into amino acids.
Carboxypeptidase, which is also a peptidase or protease, removes the terminal acid group from a protein. Many elastases secreted by pancreas break down protein elastin and other proteins.
Similarly, different nucleases break down nucleic acids like DNase and RNase into individual components. Lipases, which are the enzymes produced by the pancreas, break down the dietary fats into fatty acids and glycerol.
Finally, the small intestine secretes four different types of enzymes to break down disaccharides into monosaccharides. Sucrase is secreted to convert sucrose into glucose and fructose, whereas maltase breaks down maltose into glucose, and isomaltase breaks down maltose into isomaltose. Lastly, lactase converts lactose into glucose and galactose.

Natural Enzymes and Supplements

All these enzymes are essential for proper digestion and overall well-being. Studies show that improper eating habits like eating junk or processed food can result in a deficiency of these enzymes as the pancreas has to produce twice these enzymes to digest these complex foods. This puts a high amount of stress on it, eventually affecting the immune system.
Therefore, to reduce the stress on pancreas and to correct the deficiency, the use of these supplements is a good option.
However, it has been observed that people have doubts regarding the best brands, their benefits, and the right dosage. There are many natural enzymes, that one can opt for instead of going for these supplements.
Majority of these supplements that are readily available in the market today are made of animal and plant enzymes. They comprise enzymes like protease, amylase, lipase, etc. Hence, taking such supplements with your meal for a considerable period of time can help replenish the depleted enzymes in the body.
However, research shows that some consumers have experienced side effects like diarrhea, abdominal pain, constipation, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, headaches, etc. This is because some supplements can destruct the natural existence of lipases, which gets into the way of digestion of fats.
Thus, before you opt for any such supplement, it is recommended to consult your doctor. This is to rule out the possibility of complications that could occur due to this therapy, in case of people affected by certain medical conditions.
Digestive enzymes are essential for the proper digestion of food and their deficiency can lead to many digestive problems like irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion, bloating, and heartburn. Since these enzymes form an integral part of our digestive health, one must follow a healthy diet to prevent a deficiency.
Disclaimer: This is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.