When meals, whether daily or huge holiday fare, become difficult to digest, the habit is to reach for an antacid. However, consider supplementing with a known, but generally overlooked supplement—enzymes—to ease digestive woes.
Enzyme supplementation began in the early 20th century with the work of Scottish embryologist, Dr. James Beard. His work led him to believe pancreatic enzymes could control and kill cancer cells.
In the 1920s and 30s, Dr. Edward Howell concentrated his enzyme research on digestion and was the first to recognize and document the importance of supplemental enzymes to human nutrition. He believed an organism’s longevity was proportional to the rate of exhaustion of its enzyme potential, and the increased use of food enzymes promoted a decreased rate of exhaustion of the body’s enzyme potential.
Based on our current knowledge of genetic predisposition and the effect of stress on organ function in the body, Howell’s premise has merit. It’s well-documented that continuous stress on an organ or system of the body eventually results in diminished functioning of that organ or system.
Therefore, a goal of digestive enzyme supplementation is to relieve the digestive organs of unnecessary stress and allow the body to allocate its valuable resources to maintaining healthier metabolic function.
Is it better, however, to use vegetarian or animal sources? Enzymes from animal sources, such as pancreatin, are most active in the more alkaline environment of the small intestine (approximate pH 6.0 – 8.0) after the body has already produced enough of the enzymes necessary to complete digestion. However, because animal-based enzymes are obtained from the pancreas of slaughtered ovine and bovine sources, one cannot be sure of the diet, hormones, and other medications the animal had ingested.
Vegetarian enzymes, on the other hand, are active over a broad pH range (pH 2.0 to 11.0), so they are able to begin digesting food as soon as it enters the stomach, ensuring proper digestion.
Some of the highest potency enzymes are found in products produced by professional-grade manufacturers. Products with a fully loaded enzyme arsenal of an alkaline, neutral, and acid protease blend—combined with amylase, glucoamylase, invertase, lactase, pectinase, lipase, and cellulose—are able to shift improper digestion to proper, such as that found in Enzymes, Inc.’s Advanced Formula DigestEnz.
In addition to providing optimal digestive support, many digestive complaints—reflux, heartburn, and GERD—can be alleviated by simply taking a digestive enzyme. If a patient is suffering from severe gastrointestinal disorders, and is potentially ulcerated, an enzyme supplement without protease is recommended as protease can aggravate this condition.
A product, such as NESS Formula 601 Gastric Comfort, that combines soothing herbal and plant extracts with the aforementioned digestive enzymes, is effective when taken with food or as symptoms arise between meals—in place of an antacid.
While the digestive benefits of enzyme supplementation with meals are rather well known, enzymes taken on an empty stomach are showing promise in reducing inflammation and providing overall systemic support.
A recent study conducted by a research team at the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center determined a specific product, InflammEnz, reduced inflammation and accelerated healing time by nearly 20% in 77% of the subjects studied. The researchers admitted they were surprised by the results and implied cost benefits to post-surgical patients experiencing accelerated healing time and returning to work sooner.
When taken on an empty stomach, proteolytic enzymes make their way into the blood stream where they work with the alpha-2-macroglobulin protein to disrupt the inflammatory cascade by helping eliminate the inflammatory cytokine TNF-alpha from the blood, resulting in diminished swelling and bruising.
Similarly, when taken systemically, proteolytic enzymes provide support by “clearing” miniscule undigested particles of food that have made their way into the bloodstream, through the gut wall, where they then begin to wreck havoc on the system. These undigested troublemakers are suspected as the root of a number of chronic conditions, including fibromyalgia, arthritis, and many autoimmune disorders.
Enzyme therapy is not a new or particularly radical concept in health care, but has somehow been overlooked by conventional medicine for decades. As enzyme supplementation becomes more mainstream, look toward proven product lines from companies with an established record of providing high quality, vegetarian blends available exclusively through health care practitioners.
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