Bloating, gas and constipation can all be signs of sluggish digestion. Some health practitioners say digestive enzymes can bring your tummy back under control.
The body needs enzymes (specialized proteins) to break up food into usable forms. Some enzymes are secreted into the stomach. The main gastric enzyme is pepsin, which breaks down protein. Other examples of gastric enzymes include gelatinase (breaks down gelatin and collagen in meats), gastric amylase (breaks down starches) and gastric lipase (breaks down a type tributyrin, a type of butter fat).
Mona Morstein, N.D., Naturopathic Physician with Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and Health Sciences in Tempe, AZ, says as we age, the production of digestive enzymes sometimes decreases. Food isnít broken down as readily, causing digestive complaints, like bloating, gas, stomach cramping and heartburn.
Stool analysis can be done to see how much undigested food passes through the gastrointestinal tract. There are also tests that can be done to measure enzyme levels, such as the Elastase 1, which measures the levels of the pancreatic enzyme, elastase in a stool sample. Another test, The Heidelberg pH Diagnostic System, measures the level of gastric acidity in the digestive tract.
If enzyme levels are low, Morstein says there are two ways to improve their numbers. First, certain foods, like grains, vegetables (especially leafy greens, cauliflower and broccoli), pineapple, papaya, apple cider vinegar and bitters, have naturally high levels of digestive enzymes. However, cooking kills the enzymes. So these foods must be eaten raw or cooked very lightly.
Enzyme supplements can be taken. However, Morstein cautions that there are many different kinds of supplements. Some of these can cause more problems for certain people, so patients should seek advice from a physician or nutritionist trained in the use of supplements. The health care expert will determine the patientís exact needs and recommend the specific enzyme supplements needed by the patient.