What are digestive enzymes? They are the special proteins that break down food in the digestive tract. When they "break down" food, they literally "digest" it! Without digestive enzymes, we couldn't get nutrients from our food.
In the body, digestive enzymes are produced mainly by the pancreas, but also by the salivary glands, glands in the stomach, and the lining of the small intestine. Intestinal bacteria also produce digestive enzymes.
Many of the same enzymes are also found in raw and cultured food (more on enzymes in food) and available in supplement form. More on enzymes in general: What are enzymes?
The three best known kinds of digestive enzymes:
There are many different digestive enzymes; some are considered to be one of these basic types. Others are separate types of enzymes. (More on types of enzymes.)
During digestion, we
What are digestive enzymes' role in this process? Here is how food moves through the digestive system, and how enzymes work on the food.
Large Intestine and Rectum
You can improve your digestion quickly and efficiently by taking supplements containing digestive enzymes. Taken during, or immediately before a meal, enzymes in capsules or tablet form will help digest your food. This will lead to fewer gut problems, more available nutrients, and better elimination.
Some supplements are designed to digest as many kinds of food as possible. These will contain at least proteases to digest protein, amylases to digest carbohydrates, and lipases to digest fats.
Other supplements will add many specialized enzymes for breaking down specific types of foods. Or, some supplements are designed for just one type of food or type of digestive problem.
The source of enzymes in supplements can be from microbes, animal organs, or plants.
Microbes: Digestive enzymes are frequently grown from bacteria, yeast, or fungi in fermentation. This has become a well-established method of developing proteases, amylases, lipases, and other enzymes.
Animal Organs: There is also a long history of obtaining digestive enzymes directly from animal pancreas and other organ tissue. Pancreatin and pancrelipase are enzymes that are substances derived from the pancreas of animals that include proteases, amylases, and lipases. Freeze-dried animal glandular tissue in supplements also contains these natural enzymes.
Plants: Some digestive enzymes are obtained from fruits, such as pineapples or papayas, that contain specific protease enzymes. Extracts of certain high-enzyme plant foods are also a good source of naturally occurring enzymes.
For more information and a discussion of some high-quality brands of enzyme supplements, see best digestive enzymes.
Your body produces digestive enzymes to digest your food and to help your body extract nutrients and eliminate the rest. You can help this process along by eating high-enzyme foods and/or taking enzyme supplements—your body will thank you!