Digestive enzymes aid digestion and break down polymeric macromolecules into their smaller building blocks, which can be easily absorbed by our body. These enzymes are present throughout our digestive system-in the mouth, stomach, and the pancreas. Our body produces around 22 essential enzymes that initiate chemical reactions in the body, which helps in correctly breaking down and processing the food we eat.
It is estimated that the human body needs 45 essential nutrients to carry out normal functions. The body doesn’t produce them and depends on external sources for these vital nutrients. Most of these are present in the foods we eat, but in complex forms. The digestive enzymes present in the body help break down the food and supply our body with these essential nutrients.
Many important enzymes are present in raw foods and boost the process of digestion, which reduces the body’s need to secrete digestive enzymes. However, these enzymes are destroyed when we cook food at high temperatures. It is thus advisable to have a mix of cooked and raw foods to aid digestion. You also need to ensure that you drink a lot of water and fluids to strengthen digestion.
How Are Digestive Enzymes Secreted?
There are a lot of factors that trigger the release of digestive enzymes in our body. The sight, sound, smell, and even the thought of food can stimulate the secretion of enzymes in the stomach, mouth, and other parts of the body. As soon as food enters our mouth, the enzymes get into action, breaking them down into simpler building blocks. Some of the food molecules are broken down in the mouth itself due to the presence of enzymes in the saliva, while others are broken down in the stomach and intestines.
Types of Digestive Enzymes
- Protease – Protease is one of the most important enzymes in our body secreted by the glands in the stomach and pancreas. It breaks down proteins into amino acids called peptides. Protease is important, as undigested protein can wind up in our circulatory system and lead to a lot of health complications.
- Amylase – This enzyme is secreted by the salivary and pancreatic glands. It stimulates a specific chemical reaction which helps break down carbohydrates and provides instant energy to the human body. It also acts as a catalyst in the hydrolysis of complex carbohydrates into maltose and glucose. Amylase also aids the growth of oral bacteria that convert starch into sugar. Additionally, it helps the body overcome different allergies and skin interactions occurring due to insect bites.
- Lipase – Lipase is responsible for digesting fats in the food you ear. This enzyme is found in the mouth and the stomach and breaks the fat molecules into glycerol and fatty acids which is absorbed by the body. It plays a vital role in removing the excess fatty deposits from the inside of your veins and arteries and allows smooth flow of blood throughout your body.
- Cellulase – Cellulase breaks down fiber and is also an excellent antioxidant which eliminates toxins and heavy metals from the body. It breaks down the soluble fiber we consume, while the insoluble fiber is retained in order to boost bowl movement and keep the intestinal tract inflated.
- Nuclease – This group of digestive enzymes is secreted by the pancreas and helps in separating the bonds between the nucleotides in nucleic acids. It was earlier referred to as polynucleotidase and nucleodepolymerase. Nuclease breaks down the nucleic acid to release nitrogen bases and simple sugars.
- Maltase – Maltase is an important enzyme which breaks down disaccharide maltose. It catalyzes the hydrolysis of disaccharide maltose to simple sugar glucose, which is used up by the body or stored in the liver as glycogen. Maltase is synthesized by the cells of the mucous membrane which lines the intestinal wall.
- Lactase – As the name suggests, this enzyme helps in the breakdown of lactose (milk sugar) into the simple sugars glucose and galactose. Lactase is found in the small intestine, liver, and kidney of all mammals and is produced by the mucous membrane cells that line the intestinal wall. It also carries out glucosidase and glycosylceramidase activities.
- Mycozyme – This is a single-celled plant enzyme which aids the digestion of starch. Mycozyme is important since the breaking down of starch molecules is difficult as compared to the other food molecules we eat. It breaks down starch molecules into simple sugars that are easily absorbed by the body in order to release energy.
The Need for Enzyme Supplements
All the essential digestive enzymes are secreted by our body, but as we age, enzyme secretion slows down naturally and declines. Once a person crosses the age of 40, this decline adversely effects the digestion and assimilation of food. This explains why digestive problems are common in the elderly, who often find it difficult obtain essential nutrients from the foods they eat.
The common signs of a slowdown in enzyme secretion are heartburn, gas, constipation, bloating, allergies, ulcers, lack of energy, and reduced immunity. The decline in the secretion of enzymes may vary from person to person depending on his or her general state of health and other physical ailments that may be present.
The intake of enzyme supplements that aid digestion becomes necessary as we grow older. Even as a young adult, you may face difficulties when it comes to digesting some foods due to the inadequate secretion of a particular enzyme in your body. Such deficiencies are common in people of all age groups. In such a situation, you need to consult a doctor or dietician immediately. Keep in mind that if your body can digest food well and absorb all the essential nutrients, you will stand a better chance of living a long and healthy life.