Role of digestive enzymes in the digestion of supplements:
In today's age, a large number of supplements are available but these supplements can be categorized broadly into four categories vitamins and minerals, specialty supplements, herbals and botanicals, and sports nutrition and weight management. No matter what type of supplement you consume ultimately your supplements will be broken down by the enzymes present in your digestive system just like your food. Therefore, digestive enzymes are as important as dietary supplements. Because if digestive enzymes are not present then your supplement cannot be broken down into simple substances and cannot be made available to the body (5).
A scoop of protein:
Eating a sufficient amount of protein is not only important for athletes but also for a healthy person. Proteins are important for your immune system and they are also important for other vital organs like the heart, brain, liver to function properly. In protein powder supplements protein is extracted from plant-based or animal sources. During processing carbohydrates, fats, minerals, and fibers are removed while supplementary nutrients; and sometimes, sweeteners are added. Enzymes not only break down food but are also involved in the increased absorption of minerals, vitamins, etc. We do not naturally produce the enzyme that breaks down the cell wall. Some compounds present in the cell wall like phytic acid and oxalic acid can attach minerals and prevent their absorption. However, we can take a dietary enzyme supplement. Taking supplements with the right type of enzyme can increase the bio-accessibility of minerals including calcium, zinc, manganese, and magnesium present in food. If you are talking about vitamin supplements then enzymes are also involved in bioavailability. This means that enzymes are also involved in the absorption of vitamins in the body (6).
Digestive enzymes are proteins that help us digest our food. They are secreted by the organs of the digestive system including salivary glands, stomach lining, pancreas, and small intestine. Each portion of the digestive system secretes different enzymes for the absorption of different components present in the food (1). For example, saliva contains the enzyme amylase that digests carbohydrates, the secretions of the stomach produces pepsin that digests protein and also carbohydrates by the enzymes, the small intestine mainly digest proteins and fats. Enzymes digest food by first splitting the large molecules into smaller ones. Consequently, these smaller molecules can then be easily absorbed into the cells that make up the digestive system and transported throughout the body.
Secretion of digestive enzymes is stimulated when we think about eating food or smell or taste food. Natural enzymes are present in fruits and vegetables. So eating a variety of fruits and vegetables can increase the number of digestive enzymes and improve digestion. For example honey contains the enzyme amylase and protease, mangoes and bananas have enzymes protease, papaya has a protease called papain (2).
Importance of enzymes:
Enzymes are important for healthy digestion and thus a healthy body. They work in association with other chemicals of the body such as stomach acid and bile secreted by the gallbladder. The food that is digested by the enzyme is used to carry out different functions of the body. Carbohydrates are used to produce energy; proteins are used to make and repair muscles. But to use the components present in the food it must first be converted into some other form that can be absorbed by the body. Proteins, carbohydrates, and fats are long chains of small building blocks called monomers. For instance, proteins are made up of monomers known as amino acids, and carbohydrates are made up of sugars. Enzymes break the bonds that hold these monomers together and release individual monomers into the stomach cavity. These individual small monomers can then be absorbed into the cells and carried by the blood throughout the body. If your enzymes do not work properly the food will not be digested properly and the components that are present in the food will not be made available to the body and the functions of the body will be severely retarded (3).
Although the small intestine and stomach play important parts in enzyme production the central ‘power-station’ is the pancreas. The production of digestive enzymes is affected by a variety of health conditions especially those health issues that affect the pancreas. Because the pancreas produces many enzymes. The good news is that enzyme production can be enhanced by making small changes in your diet. With increasing age, the enzyme-producing ability of the pancreas slows down, this is normal and in most people does not cause major issues. However, we all may experience symptoms of a decrease in pancreas enzyme production like gas, heartburn, bloating, diarrhea. When this happens food and supplements are not digested properly. Especially in older people this could turn into a condition called pancreas insufficiency and result in malabsorption.
Studies have shown both change in diet and/or problem taking digestive enzyme supplements can alleviate this problem. Boosting the body’s ability to properly digest and absorb nutrients, resulting in overall health improvement. Furthermore, health issues that affect your pancreas such as pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer can reduce the amount of enzyme produced by the pancreas. Due to this, the food cannot be properly digested and your body cannot get the full nutrition from the food that it should get.
If it happens that your enzyme levels are below the normal or healthy range then you can take enzyme supplements. Dietary digestive enzyme supplements are approved by the FDA. Dietary supplements can also be taken if you are exposed to chemicals or if you eat food that is cooked at high temperatures. Because heating food at high temperatures destroys the natural enzymes present in them so the number of enzymes in your body may decrease. But talk with your doctor first before taking a dietary supplement because some people can develop irritation or other unpleasant GI tract infections due to enzyme supplements (4).
The bottom line is that enzymes are not only important for digesting food but they are also important for digesting anything that you are putting in your body. Without enzymes, we cannot digest supplements that we are taking and if we cannot digest the supplements and absorb them into our bodies then advantage in taking them at all is diminished. Therefore, the presence of the right type of enzyme with dietary supplements is the key.
- Peyrot des Gachons C, Breslin PA. Salivary amylase: digestion and metabolic syndrome. Curr Diab Rep. 2016;16(10):102. doi:10.1007/s11892-016-0794-7.