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BY KATIE - MYGREENPOD, 27 Oct '17
Dr Michael Murray, ‘the voice of natural medicine’, on why digestive enzymes might be the answer to common digestive symptoms
This article appears in the autumn issue of MyGreenPod.com Magazine, distributed with the Guardian on 27 October 2017. Click here to read the full digital issue online
Wind, bloating, irregular bowel movements, abdominal cramps and other gastrointestinal symptoms may be associated with improper digestion. One of the reasons this might be happening is that you lack certain digestive enzymes, which are vital for a healthily functioning gut.
Enzymes are molecules that either build or break down chemical bonds. Digestive enzymes break down food particles into smaller, preferably single, molecules. Insufficiency – or a complete lack – of a digestive enzyme can lead to impaired digestion.
For example, many people lack the enzyme lactase that digests lactose in milk. This makes them ‘lactose intolerant.’ When they eat a food that has lactose in it, like milk or ice cream, it leads to symptoms such as wind, bloating and maybe even diarrhoea. Taking the enzyme lactase as a dietary supplement can allow those who are lactose intolerant to break down the lactose and completely avoid the digestive consequences.
A HEALTHY MICROBIOME
Undigested food particles can wreak havoc on our digestive function, leading to digestive symptoms and discomfort. Digestive enzymes are critical in maintaining the proper intestinal environment and feeding the microbiome and microbes we harbour in our body.
The number of microbiota – bacteria, viruses and funguses – that live on or in the human body is huge. It’s estimated that approximately 100 trillion microbial cells from 1,000 different species of microorganism live within or on us, in a truly symbioticrelationship. To a very large extent, the human microbiome plays an integral role in our overall health.
In an effort to improve the microbiome andthus improve our health, many people look to probiotic supplements. Digestive enzymes are not yet as well known as probiotics, yet they are vital to our gut when it comes to effective digestion.
INCREASE YOUR INTAKE
Digestive enzymes have to be taken as a supplement, and in my experience, the best enzyme formulas to use are from Enzymedica. Taking a broad-spectrum multiple enzyme formula, like Digest Gold™, can provide tremendous support in the digestion of all types of food components such as proteins, fats and carbohydrates.
Most enzymes are effective oractive withina very narrow pH range; since the pH of the human gastrointestinaltract varies from very acid to alkaline, most enzyme supplements are not effective throughout the entire gastrointestinal tract. So, while an enzyme supplement may be helpful in one part of the digestive system, it may be totally inactive in another.
Enzymedica uses a proprietary process called Thera-Blend™ that provides amixture of digestive enzymes in the formulas so that there will be enzymatic activity throughout the pH range of our entire gastrointestinal tract.
When choosing an enzyme supplement, read the ingredients label and avoid any products that contain fillers such as magnesium stearate, apple pectin or rice starch.
Looking at the label of a high-quality enzyme product, you will find measurement units you may not be familiar with. For example, the enzyme protease is measured in HUTs (Hemoglobin Unit on an L-Tyrosine basis).
With most supplements, we are used to comparing products based on weight. However, with enzymes we are interested in the activity and potency available. It’s important to know there’s no direct relationship between weight and enzyme activity.
PROBLEMS DIGESTING GLUTEN?
If you have digestive health problems when you eat foods containing gluten, like bread, pasta, cakes and biscuits, then it is extremely important to pay attention to your enzyme intake. Approximately one in every three adults is reducing or avoiding gluten consumption.
Gluten is the main protein complex primarily found in grains including wheat, barley,spelt and rye. Many people have an intolerance to gluten along with casein, aprotein found in milk and dairy products. When ingested by intolerant individuals these proteins canproduce gastrointestinal discomfort, particularly wind and bloating.
The popular solution for gluten and caseinintolerance is to follow a gluten-free, casein-free diet, but hidden sources ofgluten orcasein in foods can still lead to discomfort. Beneficial grainsfor replacing sources of gluten include amaranth, quinoa and a variety ofrice, such asbrown, red, black and wild rice.
When avoiding gluten and casein it is very important to read food labelscarefully. Supplemental digestive enzymepreparations can help people tolerate lower levels of gluten or casein intake,especially during the initial phase of gluten or casein avoidance.
GlutenEase™ combines the Protease Thera-blend™ enzymes (G1) along with dipeptidylpeptidase IV (DPP-IV). This enzyme targets both gliadin and casein and isresistant to breakdown by other digestive enzymes.
DPP-IV is thought to be oneof the key enzymes responsible for the digestion of these proteins and is knownto be foundin lower amounts in the intestinal lining of individuals with gluten sensitivity and intolerance. In fact, there is an inverse relationship between the level of DPP-IV and intestinal damage in people with gluten sensitivity. Inother words, the lower the DPP-IV, themore significant the damage to theintestinal lining.
OTHER DIGESTIVE SUPPORT
I’d recommend the digestive enzyme supplement Acid Soothe™ for occasional heartburn and indigestion. Most often people reach foracid-blocking medications to deal with indigestion, but this approach is somewhat shortsighted asthey usually only treat the symptoms rather than dealing with the cause.
Also, thesetypes of medication typically have a long list of possible side-effects. They seem toblock digestive symptoms only to cause even more severe health issues.
A healthier alternative to dealing with indigestion is to take anaturalsupplement that contains digestive enzymes to support thedigestion of the foods that trigger heartburn and indigestion in the first place.
Acid Soothe alsoincludes zinc carnosine, a special form of zinc that has been shown to soothe and help strengthen the mucosal lining of the stomach to allow it to act as a buffer to gastric acid.
Dr Michael Murray is the author of over 30 books, including The Encyclopedia of Natural Health, and Enzymedica’s chief science officer.