Enzymes and Digestive Health

Published: March 6, 2013

Unfortunately, medical school does not prepare physicians with much information on proper nutrition or digestive health. Yet, how can your body stay healthy if it can't get the nutrition out of food that it needs? Enzyme deficiencies can contribute to:

  • Indigestion, gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation
  • Arthritis and inflammatory disorders
  • Fatigue and muscle aches
  • Brain fog/ dementia
  • Heart attacks
  • and many other conditions.

Proper nutrition is important for all your body's functions. The ability to properly digest your food is critical for proper nutrition and to avoid getting toxic.

Why are enzymes important?

In medical school, I was taught that the pancreas and salivary glands made all the enzymes you needed to digest your food. If there was a problem with the pancreas, we could always give digestive enzyme tablets made from an animal pancreas to take care of the problem. This information seems to be woefully deficient!

What goes on in real life is that most of the enzymes we need to digest the food we eat are naturally present in the food. This occurs because enzymes are what a fruit or vegetable uses to ripen. As the ripening process continues, the food digests to where we consider it to be rotten. From the perspective of an apple or grain, for example, this is a perfect stage for the seed to use its food source so it can grow into an adult plant. These same plant enzymes also work in the acid environment of your stomach (where approximately 40 percent of digestion can take place) while animal enzymes can’t work until after they get past the stomach.

Many decades ago, food processors realized that they could prolong the shelf life of food from days to years by destroying the enzymes present in the food. They also discovered that using salicylates (the active component of aspirin) is a very effective way to destroy enzymes. Because of this, most of the enzymes present in processed foods have been eliminated over the last 30 plus years. This corresponds to the period of time in which we have seen a dramatic increase in degenerative diseases and indigestion. Meanwhile, your poor pancreas has had to pick up the slack and make almost all the enzymes needed for digestion. Many people realized however that if they juiced or ate a raw food diet (cooking can also destroy enzymes) they felt dramatically better. Food processors are learning new tricks though. By gassing fresh fruits and vegetables, they can destroy the enzymes present even in these fresh foods. This way they can look appealing on the grocery shelf for weeks instead of developing those little brown spots that we don't like to see. Unfortunately, although the food looks good, it has lost much of its nutritional value.

What happens when I don't have enough enzymes?

When you don't have enough enzymes to adequately digest your food, several things happen:

  1. You become deficient in proteins, carbohydrates, and /or fats depending on which enzymes you are missing.
  2. You then crave the missing nutrient.
  3. By eating excessive amounts of the nutrient you can’t digest, it can build up in your colon and become toxic.
  4. You absorb large chunks of proteins (instead of breaking them down to their component amino acids). Your immune system then has to treat them as outside invaders and use up its energy digesting those foods that make it into your bloodstream. This can exhaust your immune system while contributing to food sensitivities. If you check you may find that your temperature goes up around 40 minutes after eating as your immune system has to make up for a weak digestive system.
  5. Your body works poorly because of the nutritional deficiencies. You feel poorly and have digestive disturbances.

All in all, you feel lousy, the stomach hurts, and you may have specific food cravings. Sound familiar?

Does it matter which enzymes I use?

As noted above, it is critical that the enzymes be from plant sources, as animal enzymes do not work in the acid environment of the stomach. They can also easily be destroyed in processing, so quality is critical.

Jacob Teitelbaum, MD

is one of the world's leading integrative medical authorities on fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. He is the lead author of eight research studies on their effective treatments, and has published numerous health & wellness books, including the bestseller on fibromyalgia From Fatigued to Fantastic! and The Fatigue and Fibromyalgia Solution. His newest book (June 10, 2024) is You Can Heal From Long COVID. Dr. Teitelbaum is one of the most frequently quoted fibromyalgia experts in the world and appears often as a guest on news and talk shows nationwide including Good Morning America, The Dr. Oz Show, Oprah & Friends, CNN, and Fox News Health.

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