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How strong is your digestion?

Different types of enzymes are needed to break down different macronutrients (fats, proteins and carbs) and then specific enzymes work on different proteins, for example, lactase on lactose from dairy products and DPP-IV on gluten from wheat products. So whether you’re a carb loving vegetarian or on Keto and heavy on fats, enzymes are working to absorb the meal. 

In this article, learn about 3 keys to digestive health: Enzymes, Probiotics and Hydrochloric Acid and where to find them in Australia.

"Enzymes are required from everything from thinking to blinking. The volume of chemical reactions that you can make in life are determined on what's called an enzyme bank account." 

- Matt Gallant, co-founder of BiOptimizers.

 

What are enzymes?

Enzymes are microscopic protein molecules that play a key role in the body. They are catalysts that speed up chemical reactions that are responsible for all processes within the body.

Why are enzymes important?

This comes down to how fast they speed up chemical reactions. While we may think that without enzymes, things would still work, just a little slower, the answer couldn’t be further from the truth.  

Enzymes speed up reactions by a factor of 10 million. Without the presence of enzymes, chemical reactions within the body would not happen quickly enough to sustain life.

enzyme reaction illustration
Enzymes catalyze (speed up) the rate of reaction and do not participate in the chemical reaction.
Source: Wikimedia / Muessig


It’s no wonder enzymes have been referred to as the fountain of youth by some.

In short, enzymes support life and help you to achieve your Optimised level of health.

What are the benefits of taking enzymes?

We make enzymes within our body so why do we have to take more?

With age, stress, excessive exercise, ill health, genetic conditions and more comes a decrease in many functions within the body and unfortunately the production and secretion of enzymes is one of these.

digestive enzyme production with age

Those with Coeliac disease would know all about the damage to the brush border of the intestines which leads to a reduction in enzyme production and secretion.  Interestingly, 1 in 70 Australians, approximately 1.4% of the population, are affected by Coeliac disease, with about 80% of these people going undiagnosed.  There are also a higher prevalence, 12.1%, of people claiming they avoid gluten-based foods and products due to a sensitivity.

Stress reduces production of pancreatic enzymes needed for digestion. Most of us are aware of how poorly we digest when stressed and may even notice a distinct lack of appetite.

An accumulation of the toxic heavy metal mercury reduces the activity of all enzymes. And as a catch 22, enzymes are needed to break down biofilm, a slimy substance that pathogens use to evade detection by the immune system.  Mercury and other heavy metals are used as part of a biofilm.

Digestive enzymes benefits

As the name would suggest, digestive enzymes speed up the process of digestion and are absolutely critical to the entire process.

Digestive enzymes, digestive juices (HCL)  and probiotics are needed to break down the nutrients from foods into their simplest units. 

What are these simple usable components of foods that the human body is able to put to work?

  • Amino acids are the building blocks of protein
  • Glucose, fructose and galactose are the building blocks of carbohydrates
  • Fatty acids are the building blocks for (you guessed it) fats

Once they’re broken down, they are absorbed through the intestines and into the bloodstream where they make their way to the cells so they can be utilised.

There are a number of enzymes produced by the digestive system, each serving a different purpose.

To understand where they come in, here is a short synopsis of the process of digestion:

The very start of our digestive tract is our mouth

Here, we produce the enzyme salivary amylase which begins the process of breaking down carbohydrates in our mouth. Once we’ve chewed and swallowed our food it makes its way through the oesophagus and into the stomach. Our stomach produces hydrochloric acid, which begins the breakdown of proteins.

From the stomach, our meal makes its way to the intestines

Along the way, the liver and gallbladder secrete bile and the pancreas secretes bicarbonate and digestive enzymes. Bicarbonate is to lower the acidity of the hydrochloric acid so it doesn’t burn a hole into the intestines. The pancreatic enzymes are proteases, lipases and amylases to break down proteins, fat and carbohydrates respectively. Bile is responsible for emulsifying fats into smaller droplets, which will help them be digested by the lipases.

The border of the intestinal wall contains enzymes.

Also known as the brush border, our intestinal wall contains little finger-like projections, known as villi. These villi secrete enzymes to finalise the digestion of the nutrients in food (as mentioned above, this is what is damaged in those with Coeliac disease). From here the nutrients cross the intestinal wall, into the bloodstream to make their way to our cells to be utilised.

Now, this is a very streamlined version of the process, yet it illustrates the point that enzymes play a crucial role in digestion.

 

And what are the consequences of poor digestive enzyme production?

  1. There is a reduction in the absorption of many nutrients.
  2. There can be an increase in inflammation. Ideally, foods are digested into their smallest units before making their way to the bloodstream. With poor digestion, our foods may enter the bloodstream digested incompletely. Our immune system may detect this as a foreign invader and trigger an immune response which increases inflammation throughout the body. Constant exposure to this immune activation can increase the chances of autoimmunity.
 

To summarise some of the benefits of digestive enzymes:

  • better nutrient absorption due to supporting digestion
  • can reduce bloating, indigestion, heartburn, gas, constipation and diarrhoea from meals
  • lowering inflammation
  • assists our body in digesting nutrients that are hard to break down
  • may especially benefit those with autoimmune conditions, as mentioned above

Digestive enzymes supplements 

As mentioned above, many factors can decrease the production and secretion of enzymes, including digestive enzymes.

On top of those factors that influence how much digestive enzymes we make inside our body, there has also been a drastic change in the enzymes we get from our diet.

Our ancestors, and even modern-folk living closer to nature and the land, would have had a greater abundance of enzymes naturally in their diet. Fresh fruits, vegetables, raw honey and fermented foods contain naturally occurring enzymes that can supplement those in our body.

digestive enzyme rich fruitsMangoes and bananas have amylase, an enzyme that helps convert complex carbohydrates to simple sugars.

However, nowadays, there can be quite a lag between when a food is picked and eventually makes its way to your mouth. Fruits and vegetables have been bred for visually appealing traits like bright colours, symmetrical shapes and no seeds. For contrast, wild bananas contain large black seeds - like something you expect to find in passionfruit. This is far removed from the seedless bananas available from our grocer.  And fermented foods are not as valued as they once were, but us biohackers know better of course.

Modern problems sometimes require modern solutions.

Supplementing with digestive enzymes can assist this problem, enhance our digestion and overall quality of life!

What is better, probiotics or digestive enzymes?

We need both. To start with, probiotics are microorganisms that are put into the body to improve the health of it.

Both digestive enzymes and probiotics have their place in supporting digestion and overall microfloral balance. Different circumstances call for different therapies. We’ve covered digestive enzymes above, so now we’ll have a brief look at probiotics.

Probiotics

When chosen correctly, probiotics can benefit our gut health as they balance the friendly bacteria present along our gastrointestinal tract. These bacteria play a number of roles, such as;

  • improving digestion of nutrients
  • production of short chain fatty acids
  • fending off other pathogenic/unfriendly microorganisms
  • reduce risk of certain diseases such as ulcerative colitis
  • enhancing certain detoxification processes


Ever get brain fog? It could be due to yeast overgrowth in your digestive system. Each time you eat, you could be “feeding the yeast”... that is, unless you use a probiotic like this -- proven to fight off foreign invaders like yeast, mold, parasites and even viruses.

Certain bacteria can increase our gut’s production of neurotransmitters, which determine how we feel. Interestingly, the neurotransmitters produced in the gut, don’t make their way to the brain, yet still influence our mood. There’s a lot of truth to having a ‘gut feeling’.

biOptimizers Cognibiotics contains probiotics to improve overall neurotransmitter balance as well as herbs such as Rehmannia and Red Sage which increase levels of Acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in memory, muscle contraction and much more.

biOptimizers CogniBiotics

We can see that we can’t say that probiotics are better or worse than digestive enzymes, they both play a part.

There are many ways to test how well our digestive tract is doing via looking at certain bacteria and levels of digestive enzymes. This can really help to fine tune whether to supplement with probiotics or digestive enzymes and which types of each. 

However, testing can be quite expensive and even more so when you consider you would have to work with a practitioner to be prescribed certain tests and interpret them. Some may choose to use these supplements without testing, as has this writer on many occasions.

Can you take probiotics and digestive enzymes at the same time?

Yes, these 2 types of supplements play different roles in the body and should be taken together to support digestion from many angles.

Additionally, digestive enzymes can reduce the need for probiotics. By enhancing the breakdown of food, we reduce the amount of time undigested food spends in our gastrointestinal tract that shouldn’t be there, thereby not feeding bad bacteria in our gut and returning our microbiome to a better balance.

Food that isn’t digested by us, is digested by bacteria in our intestines. Poorly functioning digestion gives rise to an imbalance of bacteria since we’re feeding bad guys, which can increase the need for probiotics to provide more of the beneficial organisms. This is why simply taking probiotics without addressing other aspects of the digestive process with enzymes and HCL is not optimal.

And on the flip side, probiotics can also reduce the need for digestive enzyme supplements. For instance, the lactobacillus species of probiotics increases the production of amylase enzymes, which help to break down carbohydrates. 

If you ever struggle with burping and gas, and you’ve been tempted to seek digestive relief in the form of antacids, wait, because raising stomach acid levels with betaine HCL may be exactly what you need.

What is the most effective digestive enzyme?

As with most health practices and supplements, the most effective is the one that is tailored to YOUR specific needs, as determined by signs and symptoms to show deficiencies of certain nutrients, testing when appropriate, goals and your current diet.

As mentioned above, this can get expensive and time consuming. So, in the matter of providing general recommendations for enzymes, a product that contains a broad spectrum of enzymes, with an adequate dosage in a synergistic formula is the way to go. There is not 1 particular strain of enzyme that is the most effective for everyone.

What is the best digestive enzyme supplement to take?

The product that satisfies all the qualities mentioned above and available in Australia is MassZymes by biOptimzers

biOptimizers MassZymes

It is designed to be the most effective full spectrum enzyme formulation commercially available. Additionally, It also contains a breakthrough nutrient called AstraZyme™.

Should I take digestive enzymes with every meal?

Yes and no, it depends on your goals, finances, state of health and current circumstances.

There are certainly some instances where it is better to take than not. For instance, those with chronic digestive issues may benefit from taking digestive enzymes long term with every meal until they’ve reached a certain level of digestive health.  

When transitioning to a new diet, digestive enzymes can be a great supplement to prevent the issues that come along with our body having to adapt to digesting the new diet. 

For instance, going from a low-fat to a high fat ketogenic diet will likely show some issues with fat absorption due to an ability to produce enough bile and lipases, at least in the first 2 weeks.

While this will normalise with time, it is much more pleasant to avoid the side effects from poor fat absorption.

kApex has been designed specifically to address this problem by containing protein and fat digesting enzymes alongside other compounds like Dandelion root which enhances our own ability to produce digestive enzymes and bile.

When transitioning to a Keto diet, the other main pitfalls are a lack of fibre and electrolyte. Take care to maintain intake of both.

biOptimizers kApex

Additionally, athletes, weekend warriors and everyone in between who exercises can also benefit from enzymes with their meals surrounding training.

If you’re going to eat before exercising, digestive enzymes can speed up digestion substantially, meaning you’re less likely to work out with a full stomach and the lethargy that comes with it.

Exercise is a stress on the body and immediately after exercising, our digestive function is impaired. Using digestive enzymes in your post workout meal can enhance how much you’re absorbing to speed up recovery and how easily you gain muscle mass.

If your digestion is ok and you don’t feel you need enzymes with every meal here are some circumstances where it can be beneficial to take them:

  • Eating while stressed out. Stress reduces our production and secretion of digestive enzymes, stomach acid, bile and more. Overtraining, poor sleep and deadline related stress are 3 common stress scenarios. 
  • Trying to gain muscle mass if you’re someone who struggles to eat enough.
  • Eating out at a restaurant, especially if you have food sensitivities. Traces of gluten and other triggering substances can make their way into your meal if strict practices aren’t adhered to. In this case biOptimizers Gluten Guardian can be a helpful supplement. While it’s not an answer for Coeliac disease, it can mitigate the impact for gluten sensitive people.
  • If you don’t chew your food enough - since the digestive system starts in the mouth.

No, we’re not making a joke with that last one.

If you’re an avid smoothie eater, having digestive enzymes can be quite helpful.

While most of us would think that a smoothie is easier to digest than a meal we’d have to chew, we are missing out on a crucial part of digestion. 

The chewing!

Without chewing we are missing out on a key process that helps start the digestive process in our mouth and signal to the rest of our digestive tract that food is coming so that it can prepare by beginning to produce enzymes.

It can be easy to smash down a smoothie at the workstation, not be present with it and gulp it down rapidly. Whilst not ideal, it happens, so having some digestive enzymes can rectify some of the detrimental effects of eating this way.

What are the best digestive enzymes for bloating? And how do they work?

A lack of digestive enzymes can be one reason for excessive bloating after meals.  

How can this be the case?

Think about lactose intolerance (not to be confused with a dairy allergy), which leads to bloating and more, shortly after consuming it. Many people are intolerant and if you’re not I’d bet you know someone who is.

The reason for this is due to a deficiency or complete lack of the enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose into glucose and galactose which are easily absorbed and turned into energy. If the lactose is not broken down, it starts to cause trouble.

The same can be said for other nutrients, specifically protein, fat and carbs. 

A deficiency of enzymes to break down those 3 nutrients can easily contribute to bloating as bacteria begin to digest the nutrients instead of the enzymes.  The bacteria ferment this, produce gases, which show up as that bloat.

Usually there is a root cause reason as to why digestive enzymes aren’t being produced, and while that is being addressed, supplementing digestive enzymes can begin to bring that bloating under control much quicker.

Taking an HCL supplement can also be amazing for your digestion so you never feel bloated after big meals.

What are the best digestive enzymes for IBS? And how do they work?

IBS is the acronym for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Syndromes tend to be clusters of symptoms based on a diagnosis by exclusion, ie. nothing else can be found to be the cause of issues. IBS often presents as bloating, gas, cramping, fatty film on stools, pain and changes in bowel movements to diarrhea, constipation or alternating between the 2.

We’ve seen above that digestive enzymes can assist with bloating and for that same reason it can help with IBS.

FODMAP sensitivity seems to be another potential trigger for those with IBS. The fermentable fibres in FODMAP-rich foods aren’t broken down as readily by the body of an IBS sufferer, leading to a fermentation of these fibres, causing gas, bloating, gut pain and more. 

Lactose is one of these FODMAPs. As mentioned above, a deficiency in the lactase enzyme causes lactose intolerance. Lactase is one of the enzymes contained in MassZymes.

Additionally, the symptoms of poor digestive enzyme production are very similar to IBS symptoms, including;

  • gas and bloating
  • diarrhea
  • fatty stools

While addressing the root cause of why digestive enzymes and other digestive processes aren’t optimal, supplementing digestive enzymes may improve symptoms rapidly.

What are the best digestive enzymes for weight loss? And how do they work?

This may seem counterintuitive to some. How can digesting more help me to lose weight?

A key reason is inflammation. 

Chronic, high levels of inflammation can contribute to fat gain and muscle loss due to its effect on multiple pathways that control our metabolism. By improving our digestion via digestive enzyme supplementation, we reduce the burden on our immune system which contributes to excessive inflammation, mentioned above.

There are many factors contributing to weight loss of course, with inflammation being one potential pathway.

So, a broad spectrum enzyme such as MassZymes can be beneficial. If you have symptoms of fat digestion issues, then kApex may be the product for you.

 

What are the best digestive enzymes for SIBO? And how do they work?

SIBO is short for Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth and as the name suggests, there is too much and the wrong type of bacteria in the small intestine.

Many species of bacteria, though not all, thrive on carbohydrates as a source of fuel.

By improving our digestion of these carbohydrates we are increasing the speed of their absorption through the small intestine and into the bloodstream. When digestion is impaired and food lingers in the intestine longer than is optimal, it gives more time for bacteria to consume this food source and proliferate.

Thus, supporting digestive enzyme levels, as well as other factors for digestive health can begin to mitigate the prevalence of SIBO.

Enzymes make life possible

Enzymes are critical, all of life depends on them. Digestion is a fundamental component of living an Optimised life, and digestive enzymes are crucial for healthy digestive function. 

By optimising our level of digestive enzymes, we absorb more nutrients from food, improve our gut health and decrease our chances of digestive issues such as SIBO, bloating and IBS, decrease inflammation and lower our chances of autoimmunity. we can even put on muscle more readily using proteolytic enzymes and HCL.

References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK9921/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK22380
https://www.coeliac.org.au/s/coeliac-diseasehttps://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23011886/ 
https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2020/212/3/incidence-and-prevalence-self-reported-non-coeliac-wheat-sensitivity-and-gluten

Guest Author
Guest Author

This article was contributed by a guest author with expert knowledge in their field.



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