Do You Need Digestive Enzymes?

By age 40 stomach acid production declines, and most people start to have compromised digestion.

A lot of people take vitamins and other dietary supplements, but they may be missing out on a more significant tool to promote better health—enzymes.

Enzymes are naturally occurring compounds that act as catalysts to speed up complex biochemical processes in all living animals and plants. Enzymes digest our food so our cells have the nutrients they need to function, they aid the immune system in fighting off diseases, and control hundreds of activities of the body. Life as we know it wouldn’t exist without enzymes.

There are three broad classifications of enzymes— metabolic, food, and digestive enzymes. 

Enzymes promote better digestive health

Metabolic enzymes are produced within our cells to perform complex cellular processes that allow our bodies to do activities such as breathing, moving or thinking. Scientists have identified only 3000, of the many thousands of enzymes that keep us alive. 

Food enzymes are found in raw, unprocessed food. Enzymes in raw foods help you start digestion of these foods. You may have noticed that if you bruise a banana, apple or kiwi, the fruit seems to rapidly turn to mush. These fruits spoil rapidly when their cell walls are crushed, because an enzyme is released that causes the fruit to start to digest. This same enzyme helps us digest raw foods, when we chew them well.

Our bodies produce digestive enzymes to chemically break down the food we eat so we can absorb nutrients that are in the food. While vitamins, minerals and hormones are important to our health, they do not work without enzymes. Hence taking enzymes is more important to your health than vitamins and minerals.

While most health practitioners agree that good nutrition is crucial to maintaining health, they often overlook the true cause of many nutritional and health disorders. The underlying cause of many nutritional and bowel disorders is often compromised digestion, and a lack of sufficient enzymes to digest the food we eat.

Let’s take anemia as an example. A person who is anemic has low levels of iron in blood tests. The traditional medical or dietary therapy for patients with this condition is to treat the patient with large doses of the substance that they are lacking. So the patient is frequently given large amounts of iron supplements to boost their iron levels, without addressing the cause of their decreased iron levels. Ingesting large quantities of iron results in constipation, and the poor health that accompanies poor elimination. The actual cause of the person’s iron deficiency may be coming from compromised digestion. The patient may not be making enough stomach acid to effectively absorb iron from their food. Or there may be a protein-digesting problem. Protein transports iron though our blood. If the person does not make enough enzymes to efficiently digest protein, they may get a protein deficiency and corresponding iron deficiency. 

As you can see from the above example, finding the cause and solving nutritional or health disorders involves more than throwing in extra nutrients, which the body may not be able to process. A better approach is to find out what you are not processing and improve your ability to digest  with digestive enzymes.

Signs of Enzyme Deficiency

How do you know if you need enzymes?

If you experience any of the symptoms shown above Signs of Enzyme Deficiency chances are that you may benefit from taking digestive enzymes.

If your problem is simple, taking over the counter enzymes from a health food store may help you process your food better. Unfortunately there is a wide range of quality and effectiveness of what you will find on the shelves of stores.

In the stores you’re likely to find products made with pancreatic enzymes from animals, enzymes like bromalin and papain, or in some instances purified plant enzymes grown on fungus. Generally, Bromelain, which comes from pineapple, and papain, which comes from papaya, are less expensive and less effective at enhancing your digestion than pancreatic enzymes or plant-based enzymes. Bromelain works most effectively at 122 - 140 degrees, which is why it is an excellent meat tenderizer, but poor digestive aid. Papain is inexpensive and plentiful because it is a by-product of the tanning industry, but does little to relieve stress on the pancreas.

One of the most difficult tasks in decoding what’s in an over the counter enzyme is that manufactures will often use lots of meaningless units and measurements of enzyme activity that are not uniform and cannot be measured. So finding an over the counter formula that works well can be a little like finding a needle in a haystack.

If you’ve tried several over the counter products, and haven’t found success, it’s probably because you may not be taking the right enzymes, it may be time to seek the professional help of a certified enzyme therapist to improve your digestion.

Dr. Patrick Giammarise, DC, Internal Health Specialist, Founder of the Digestion Relief Center, in Chico California, specializes in effective, natural relief for IBS, food sensitivities and digestive problems. Learn more at

Published in the Inside Out Magazine, 2009.

2014, © Dr. Patrick Giammarise, DC. All Rights Reserved.

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