Food provides the basic materials required for growth, healing and all bodily functions. Eating even the most perfectly balanced diet won't help you unless you are able to break it down into absorbable nutrients. This process is known as digestion.
Digestion takes place in the mouth, stomach and intestines, which are components of the gastro-intestinal (GI) tract. A properly functioning GI tract is vital for our well being and long term health.
On the other hand, a poorly functioning stomach and intestines can be a source of many acute and chronic health problems that may seriously interfere with your quality of life.
The Digestive Process
The process of digestion begins in the mouth. The enzymes amylase and lipase present in saliva start the breakdown of carbohydrates and fats, while the chewing of food stimulates the production of digestive enzymes in the stomach.
The stomach produces hydrochloric acid and various digestive enzymes that break down proteins, fats and carbohydrates in preparation for absorption.
The bulk of digestion and absorption takes place in the small intestine. Additional digestive enzymes (trypsin, chymotrypsin, pancreatin and papain) produced either by the lining of the intestines or by the pancreas continue the breakdown of fats, carbohydrates and proteins. Bile, produced by the liver, helps with digestion and absorption of fats.
The result of this process is that the food is reduced to molecules of sugars, amino acids and fatty acids, which are then absorbed through the wall of the small intestine.
Too Few Enzymes
Enzymes are essential for normal digestion. Unfortunately, most adults don't have enough of them. The main reason is the kind of food we eat.
Enzymes are naturally present in the raw fruits and vegetables, not exactly the most popular food items for most Americans. To make matters worse, cooking and food processing destroy enzymes. As a result, most of the food we eat is enzyme deficient.
In addition, as we get older, there is a definite decline in the level of digestive enzymes produced in the stomach, pancreas and small intestine, usually after age 30 to 35. The reason for this is not clear, but it is an established medical fact.
The lack of enzymes leads to poor digestion, poor absorption, as well as accumulation of undigested food, material, metabolic waste and putrefied fecal matter in the intestinal tract. This can lead to food allergies, overgrowth of parasites, yeast and unfriendly bacteria, indigestion, constipation, belching, bloating and many other health problems.
As the digestive process deteriorates further, you may notice decreased energy, headaches, fatigue, general malaise and reduced resistance to infections.
Other Enzyme Functions
Research shows that enzymes are important not just for digestion, but for a variety of functions within the body:
Circulation - Enzymes are vitally important in preventing excessive blood clotting and reducing the "stickiness" of the platelets and red blood cells.
Trypsin and chymotrypsin are used in fibrinolysis, a process that dissolves blood clots. Enzymes help remove metabolic waste and generally improve circulation.
Inflammation - Regardless of the reason for inflammation, enzymes are essential for tissue repair. They reduce swelling and pain, decrease the duration or inflammatory process and help speed up the recovery rate. These effects are also important in the treatment of injuries.
Other benefits - There are many other uses for enzymes, including autoimmune conditions, arthritis, chronic diseases, pre and post-surgery and multiple sclerosis.
Research in the field of enzyme therapy is ongoing so it's likely that more benefits will be discovered.
Minimal Digestive Enzymes = Poor Health
The lack of enzymes is detrimental to health because enzymes are essential not only for digestion but also for many other vital functions.
Scientists are finding new ways to use enzymes over and above their traditional value as digestive aids. Research shows that enzymes are important in maintaining health, preventing or fighting many diseases and possibly extending life.
Unfortunately, we live in a stressful, polluted world where enzyme-rich foods are the exception rather than the rule. Processing, preservatives and extended shelf lives kill off many of the active enzymes in the foods we consume. The aging process reduces our enzyme levels even further.
That's why every adult over 30 should supplement his or her diet with a comprehensive plant-based enzyme formula.
A good digestive enzyme complex should include tipase for fat digestion, protease for protein digestion, amylase for carbohydrate digestion, lactase for milk digestion and cellulase for fruit and vegetable digestion.
Copyright © 2004. Used by permission. All rights reserved. For more information, please visit www.seniormag.com