Vegetarian-Derived Digestive Enzymes
Digestion is the process that breaks down food mechanically and chemically in the gastrointestinal tract to convert the food into absorbable forms. The body can absorb salt and water unchanged, but starches, fats and proteins canít be absorbed until they have been split into smaller molecules.
Enzymes are the leading actors of the digestive process, playing out a script that ensures the body absorbs nutrients properly. Each of the five main digestive enzymes has a different role to play. Amylase digests starch. Protease breaks down the peptide bonds that join the amino acids in a protein, ensuring the amino acids are readily available to the body. The enzyme lipase splits apart emulsified fats. Lactase digests milk sugar, while cellulase helps break down plant and vegetable matter. These enzymes are secreted by the pancreas and are often referred to as pancreatic enzymes.
Deficiencies of these enzymes can wreak havoc on the digestive tract, causing bloating, flatulence, and gastrointestinal discomfort. Without proper supplies of these enzymes, the body struggles to digest the high-fat or high-starch meals frequently consumed during the holidays. Pancreatic enzyme deficiencies also are associated with Pancreatitis, Crohnís disease and cystic fibrosis. Surprisingly, consuming a high-fiber diet may also cause a decrease in digestive enzyme levels.
This milk-sugar digesting enzyme is perhaps the best known of the digestive enzymes, due to the prevalence of lactose intolerance. Lactase supplementation supports individuals who exhibit lactose intolerance after consuming dairy products.
In one study, researchers evaluated the effects of lactase on lactose malabsorption and its intolerance symptoms, as well as the available way to improve lactose absorption. Healthy adults with a history of lactose intolerance were screened using a lactose tolerance test.
Subjects were challenged twice with 400 ml low-fat milk and 400 ml low-fat milk plus lactase separately for three days. Four hours after the subjects consumed the milk, researchers measured markers of lactose malabsorption and noted intolerance symptoms. The results showed that lactase supplementation significantly decreased the incidence of milk intolerance symptoms from about 51 percent to 13 percent and decreased measurements of lactose malabsorption.
This enzyme is essential to the bodyís ability to break down lipids. In 100 subjects suffering from flatulence, pressure and pain in the stomach, nausea after meals, and belching, lipase and other proteolytic enzymes improved all of the above symptoms in 96 percent of the subjects.
In another trial, researchers showed that lipase can assist with the nutrient malabsorption that occurs during HIV infection. Researchers gave lipase and another enzyme called chymotrypsin to 19 HIV patients suffering from malnutrition. After two weeks of supplementing with lipase and the other enzyme, the frequency of cases cured or improved on pancreatic enzyme therapy was significantly higher than that observed during the previous study period without enzyme treatment.
An enzyme that helps the body digest starch, amylase is integral to the breakdown of refined carbohydrates, potatoes and other starchy foods consumed in abundance at this time of year. Due to amylaseís role in breaking down carbohydrates, itís not surprising that researchers have found that type 1 diabetics may suffer from an amylase deficiency, although this same deficiency wasnít noted in type 2 diabetics. Vegetarians consuming low-tryptophan diets also may be deficient in this important enzyme.
Protease and Cellulase
These enzymes have opposite actions in the body. While protease digests protein, cellulase digests vegetables and plant matter. Protease has been studied for its ability to improve muscle healing after exercise in combination with amylase, lipase and other enzymes when taken on an empty stomach. When consumed with meals, however, protease helps break down protein so that the body can use proteinís building blocks (amino acids) more effectively. In animals fed primarily grains and soy products, a combination of enzymes that included protease and cellulase, improved nutrient utilization and growth performance.
Vitamin Research Productsís Digestive Enzymes is a unique, plant-based formula containing amylase, protease, lactase, lipase and cellulase. The vegetarian enzymes are generally better tolerated than animal-source enzymes as a source of nourishment for the intestinal tract.