The digestion and absorption of nutrients is essential for the survival of all living organisms and is the intricate and particular task of the gastrointestinal (GI) system. Enzymes secreted in the in the digestive system breakdown carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Most people don’t think about how their digestive tract is working and just assume their GI system will work to not only breakdown nutrients but also provide energy, release waste and even boost the immune system. The general public isn’t aware of the details involved in the digestion of various nutrients and how the breakdown of products crosses the cells that line the small intestine to reach the blood stream and are then used by other cells of the body (Goodman, 2010).
So if we are so unaware of how and when the digestive system and enzymes are functioning, then how do we know if the digestive enzymes are working?
Generally we produce enzymes from the foods we eat. Fermented food, for example, are probiotic foods and contain enzymes that are produced by bacteria and can aid in digestion. Some foods are high in amylase and help to breakdown starches and sugars. However, problems can occur when certain conditions such as: aging, illness, and/or certain medications can decrease our body’s production of digestive enzymes (“Digestive enzymes,” 2011). During this time the only way to make sure the body has enough enzymes is to supplement. Enzymes have been ingested by man for thousands of years and have been used to supplement the diet and aid in digestion decades (Overview, 2012). Whether or not a person is aware of how supplemental digestive enzymes are working depends on why they are taking the enzymes. For instance, many people with indigestion believe that they have an over active digestive system with too many active digestive enzymes; when in fact the opposite is true. In this case, it would be obvious that the supplemental enzymes were effective when the person experienced relief from heartburn and indigestion (“Digestive enzymes,” 2011).
The digestive system is furnished with a unique immune system for maintaining immunological homeo-stasis, if that efficient immune system is disrupted it can result in the development of diseases such as food allergy and intestinal inflammation. Accumulating evidence has demonstrated that digestive enzymes play an important role in the regulation of gut immune responses and also in the development of intestinal immune diseases. Of course in this situation it would be evident that digestive enzymes are effective by a decrease in the symptoms of food allergy, such as a lactose intolerance or diarrhea from intestinal inflammation.
So in conclusion, many times the effectiveness of digestive enzymes cannot be determined easily. With certain conditions that are caused by a lack of enzymes there is testing that can be done to determine if the condition has been resolved. However, many times the determining factor of digestive enzyme’s effectiveness is relief from the symptoms that originally caused the condition (Lamichhane, Kiyono, & Kunisawa, 2013). How does the person feel since taking the enzymes or changing their diet to promote enzymatic production? It is always recommended to see a healthcare provider before beginning any supplementation regime, to assure there isn’t an underlying condition. Nevertheless, relief from symptoms can be the target goal and all the treatment that is necessary.
Digestive enzymes for optimum health. (2011). Retrieved from http://naturopathconnect.com/articles/magical-enzymes/
Goodman, B. (2010). Insights into digestion and absorption of major nutrients in humans. Retrieved from http://advan.physiology.org/content/34/2/44
Lamichhane, A., Kiyono, H., & Kunisawa, J. (2013). Nutritional components regulate the gut immune system and its association with intestinal immune disease development. Retrieved from doi:10.1111/jgh.12259
Orally administered enzyme food supplement safety overview. (2012). Washington D.C.: Enzyme Technical Association.