Whether we realize it or not, a great deal of our bodies' energy is spent in the digestive process. Digestive enzymes are just that: Enzymes that help metabolize food. They are found in our bodies, in food, and can be taken as supplements.
Alex Matosov, a New York fitness expert explains: "Digestive or metabolic enzymes are found in our saliva and along the gastrointestinal tract. They are involved in the breakdown of food and aid nutrient absorption into the bloodstream and eventually into our cells."
Enzymes are also present in food. The more raw foods we have in our diet the better, as the enzymes help jumpstart our digestion process and take some of the stress off of our system to break down the food we consume.
Nationally recognized nutrition expert Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN, says, "Oral digestive enzymes are used to aid digestion and lessen the metabolic stress on weaker digestive systems. The types of enzyme supplements needed are diagnosed based on the digestive condition of the patient."
When it comes to the ingredients in digestive enzyme supplements, Glassman notes that ones derived from papaya fruit and pineapple are popular choices and known to aid in digestion.
The papaya digestive enzyme supplement helps break down food in the stomach, which can reduce heartburn, acid reflux, and other GI conditions, says Glassman.
"Bromelain enzymes, from the stem and juice of a pineapple, are known for their cancer-fighting effects," Glassman adds. "They are also often used to reduce inflammation and swelling from injury and can relieve stomach upset and indigestion."
"Anyone who has a problem with malabsorption (described as difficulty absorbing nutrients from food), for example being lactose intolerant, may benefit [from digestive enyzmes]," says Matosov.
"Also, as we age, the process of digestion does slow down a bit, so anyone over the age of 65 may benefit from digestive enzyme supplements, but only if there are symptoms."
Some of the most common symptoms are gas, bloating and diarrhea. If you experience any discomfort after your meals, it's always a good idea to check with your doctor, Matosov suggests.
As for dosage, "It is more effective if the enzyme is taken at the beginning of a meal as opposed to after because there is less activity and interference from the stomach acid -- but it's even more effective if taken at the beginning, the middle and the end," recommends Glassman. You can do this by pulling apart the capsule and mixing some into your beverage or directly onto your food.
Before beginning a digestive enzyme regimen, contact your doctor and find out if they are right for you -- there can be side effects associated with taking any supplement. If you're having symptoms of digestive distress, however, digestive enzymes might just be the answer for you!
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