Digestive Enzymes Demystified: What Do They Do?

Digestive Enzymes Demystified: What Do They Do?

“You can eat a perfect diet, but you will still starve if you can’t digest it.”

—Dr. Tennant

Have you found yourself bloated, nauseous, excessive burping, gas, or with heartburn, but are not sure why?

Was it something I ate, or could it be a bigger issue?

Did you know that burps and flatulence are signs of poor digestion?

What are Digestive Enzymes?

Did you know that digestive enzymes help us break down the food we eat? In fact, digestive enzymes are substances naturally produced by your body that help break down the food you eat as it travels through your digestive tract into your intestines. From there, your body continues to break down the food and absorb nutrients. 

How Do They Do This?

During digestion, enzymes help to break down complex molecules into smaller components, such as starches into simple sugars and proteins into amino acids. The digestive enzymes then work to move these smaller particles through the walls of the small intestine so they can be absorbed by the body. In addition, some digestive enzymes help to break down fiber into simpler forms that can be more easily processed.

Different types of digestive enzymes are needed for different foods, and each enzyme has its own specific role in digestion. For example:

  • Amylase breaks down carbohydrates
  • Protease breaks down proteins
  • Lipase breaks down fats.

If you do not have enough digestive enzymes in your stomach, it can lead to malabsorption of certain nutrients and cause a variety of symptoms. For example, someone may experience bloating, flatulence, constipation, or diarrhea. Without the proper digestive enzymes in the stomach, the body is unable to break down and absorb essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients from food. This can lead to an overall deterioration in health, because these vital nutrients are not available for use by the body.

What Impacts Digestive Enzymes?

There are several things that can impact your body's ability to make its own digestive enzymes. Here are a few:  

  1. Age-Related Enzyme Deficiency – As we age, the ability of the body to create digestive enzymes decreases. This is why older adults may experience digestive issues more frequently than younger people.

  2. Eating Cooked Foods – The more we cook food, the fewer enzymes we have that are able to process the food we consume. Cooking destroys some of the natural enzymes found in food, and heat can reduce the ability of your body to absorb and synthesize further digestive enzymes that may be present in the food.

  3. Pesticides – Pesticides are designed to kill living organisms. As we eat those foods, the bacteria that our bodies need to create critical enzymes to break the food down are no longer available.

So, as you can see, just getting older and today’s lifestyle can have a big impact on your ability to break down the food you eat and digest it effectively. 

Let’s look at a specific example:  Pesticides

Glyphosate is a significant pesticide that has received quite a bit of attention and is used on much of the conventional food crops we produce globally. Glyphosate kills off the beneficial bacteria in the body (lactobacillus and bifidobacteria), which are both very important to the health of the microbiome.

Lactobacillus creates specific enzymes that break down the casein in milk proteins. When those proteins are missing, people can have undigested food in the digestive tract. This leads to food sensitivity or lactose intolerance.

If the undigested food is not broken down for a prolonged period of time, there are other digestive problems that can occur, such as "leaky gut" or, eventually, potential autoimmune disorders related to digestion.

What are Difficult-to-Digest Foods?

Eating certain foods can be more challenging to digest, even if they are packed with nutrition. Some of the top difficult-to-digest foods include:

  • Gluten
  • Dairy
  • Grains
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Sugars
  • Beans
  • Broccoli
  • Bacon

Let’s dive into one specifically:  Gluten

Gluten seems to be in just about everything these days: soups, bread, pasta, sauces and even spices! Mostly all processed foods. The question is, what is gluten and what does it do in the body?

For digestive purposes, we need to ask, what is gluten? Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, barley and several other grains. While some gluten is natural, other types of gluten have been concentrated and used in food processing to add flavor, texture and even protein.

Here is the challenge. Gluten is actually a protein, and the digestive enzyme protease is the enzyme that usually breaks down protein. But it cannot fully break down gluten.

Gluten is found to have high values of two specific amino acids: glutamine and proline. Both glutamine and proline are very difficult to digest. Typically, when we digest food, the body uses enzymes to break down long strands of proteins into smaller groups called peptides. Gluten specifically contains several peptides that cannot be broken down by digestive enzymes in the stomach and can end up undigested in the small intestine. (Remember...undigested or partially digested food can cause health issues over time.) People who are gluten-sensitive or who have celiac disease can have an adverse or inflammatory reaction as these move through the digestive tract to be excreted.

What Helps the Body Process Gluten Specifically?

There is a very specific enzyme designed to help break down these gluten-specific proteins that the body cannot process on its own. This enzyme is called dipeptidyl peptidase-IV (DPP-IV). This enzyme is designed to target gluten specifically and not only help the body digest gluten as a protein, but also mildly detox gluten from the body.

Celiac is an autoimmune disease that causes a specific reaction when eating gluten. Eating gluten triggers an immune response in the small intestine and causes a reaction.

Zonulin is a protein that also affects the intestinal permeability of the tight junctions in the gut and is associated with gluten. Measuring zonulin levels is the only known physiologic modulator of intracellular tight junctions (“leaky gut”) that we know so far. In fact, zonulin levels of a person eating a gluten-free diet for two years and diagnosed with celiac, can be up to 30 times the levels of that of a non-celiac gluten sensitivity person.

So if gluten creates zonulin, which is known to be a marker of "leaky gut", is there a way to help reduce zonulin levels in the body? Studies have shown that DPP-IV can in fact help reduce zonulin levels in the body, but is not a complete solution for the removal of zonulin.

Dipeptidyl peptidase-IV (DPP-IV) combines the specific enzymes that not only help break down the protein needed for gluten, but also offer several additional peptides that traditionally cannot be broken down in the body. This results in an easier digestive process for those who may have increased intestinal permeability, "leaky gut" or food sensitivities to gluten specifically.

Some people have a condition called "non-celiac" gluten sensitivity (NCGS), where the body reacts negatively to the gluten protein, despite not having a confirmed celiac diagnosis. Others who have "leaky gut" or increased intestinal permeability can also have similar negative reactions to the gluten protein in the body.

If you find yourself reacting to gluten, trying a digestive enzyme with dipeptidyl peptidase-IV (DPP-IV) may just help with some of the sensitivities or digestion intolerances one experiences along the way with gluten specifically.

To be clear. Dipeptidyl peptidase-IV is designed for those who are likely eating gluten-free, and may encounter gluten unexpectedly. DPP-IV has been shown to help break down the additional peptides that are associated with gluten, but this specific enzyme is designed to be a helper—not cure—for gluten in the diet or for specific reactions to gluten.

NOTE: This will not reverse celiac disease or cure a non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) person, but it may help with those who need a little help digesting those difficult-to-digest foods.

So, What Can I Do?

One of the big challenges is that we don’t always know what digestive enzyme we are lacking or why.  And if you eat out, you don’t always know what is in the food you are eating.

When Dr. Tennant was designing Dr. Tennant’s® Digestive Enzyme Formula, he partnered with an incredible biochemist. Together, they developed a formula that will help with just about anything you eat.

27 specific enzymes that help break down
each type of difficult-to-digest food

This was done specifically so that the body would be able to use these enzymes whether or not the bacteria or proteins were present. In short, these digestive enzymes have what the body needs to break down the food you eat—yes, even if it’s overcooked or conventionally farmed.

To Wrap This Up

As we age and eat conventionally farmed or processed foods, we may find ourselves with unwanted side-effects or at worst major health issues that result from a lack of digestive enzymes.

If you are experiencing serious health issues, we always recommend that you consult your physician or healthcare professional for additional testing.

However, the 27 specific enzymes in Dr. Tennant’s® Digestive Enzyme formula may help improve signs of indigestion, such as bloating, burping, flatulence, and even help with tummy trouble immediately following a meal.

 Learn More About Dr. Tennant's® Digestive Enzymes

Digestive Enzyme User Guide – Click to download

It’s your body. It’s your life. Ingredients matter.

Featured Products in This Article:

Dr. Tennant’s® Digestive Enzyme Formula
Helps with several digestive issues such as GERD, heartburn, acid reflux, and improperly digested foods. 

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