Nutritional Supplement: The Benefits of Digestive Enzymes

Learn how enzymes benefit your energy levels and how to get the most from your food.


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Body fuel efficiency: Enzymes and the role they play

Food fuels the body, but it must be properly digested for nutrients to be absorbed into the circulatory system and distributed to tissues. Within the digestive system, from the mouth to the large intestine, enzymes play an essential role in this fuel-preparation process.

“Every vital process of life is orchestrated by enzymes,” says Dr. Marcus Laux, a naturopath, lecturer, author, and host of the television programs The Natural Health Show in the United States and Hollywood Health in the United Kingdom. “Enzymes initiate, accelerate, modify, and terminate reactions in our bodies. Yet enzymes are one of the most critically under-addressed areas for good health.”

Researchers have identified hundreds of enzymes, each playing a precise role in muscle creation, blood coagulation, urination, detoxification, bone development, energy storage, and breathing. Digestive enzymes include amylase, the salivary enzyme in the mouth that begins the conversion of starch into simple sugars; pepsin and other enzymes in the stomach that break down proteins; pancreatic enzymes that are secreted into the small intestine; and enzymes in the intestinal wall that break down proteins, carbohydrates, and fats into smaller molecules. By the time food enters the large intestine, the body has absorbed what it can use and, ideally, all undigested material is then excreted. But without adequate amounts of digestive enzymes, undigested food can sit in the colon, passing toxins into the blood and on to the liver.

Raw foods can help

Uncooked foods also provide the body with enzymes. Heat destroys enzymes, so cooked foods supply no enzymatic activity. Foods that have been irradiated, processed, or treated with chemicals offer few or no enzymes. When the diet lacks uncooked foods, the body’s internal organs try to make up the enzyme deficit, attempting to create more enzymes than they are physiologically equipped to do.

People who don’t eat raw foods and whose organs work overtime to fill enzyme quotas may eventually experience discomforts such as skin rashes, bloating, gas, fatigue after eating, joint pain, and fuzzy thinking. Should these symptoms persist for years, they can develop into allergies, constipation, and more serious conditions such as cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, and autoimmune disorders.

Finding the right enzyme

When a patient complains of multiple problems, Laux says he often assumes that the digestive system is involved, so he studies the patient’s eating habits and bowel history. He recommends that these patients eat more raw foods every day and take digestive enzymes with each meal. After one or two months of this regimen, he says, symptoms often disappear. According to Laux, a broad-range enzyme can help the body digest food more effectively.

Enzymes are available as tablets, capsules, powders, and liquids, and they should be kept in a cool place away from direct sunlight. There are both plant-based and animal-based enzyme products, but Laux says he most often prescribes those that are plant-based because he finds them more effective, and they also meet vegetarian requirements. When using an animal-based enzyme, he suggests choosing one that is enteric-coated, that is, coated with a protective substance that allows the enzyme to pass through the stomach’s acids and be released in the intestines.

For more information:

• To find a naturopathic doctor in your area, contact the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, 2355 Eastlake Ave., Ste. 322, Seattle, WA 98102; (206) 298-0125.
• For nutritional information, contact the International and American Associations of Clinical Nutritionists, 5200 Keller Springs Rd., Ste. 410, Dallas, TX 75248; (972) 250-2829.
• For more information about digestion and related problems, contact the Digestive Disease National Coalition, 711 Second St. NE, Ste. 200, Washington, D.C., 20002; (202) 544-7497. Or contact the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, Box NDDIC, 9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20892; (301) 654-3810.
• For more information about enzymes, see Enzymes and Enzyme Therapy by Anthony Cichoke (Keats, 1994).