Digestive enzymes work in your digestive system in conjunction with hydrochloric acid and bile salts to break down the foods you eat in order for the body to use the nutrients from them. Without enzymes doing the job of breaking foods down, the food would sit in the digestive tract which would negatively affect the immune system, create toxicity in the body, and cause digestion issues. There are particular enzymes that work to break down fats, proteins, sugar, starch, and other carbohydrates. Raw foods contain their own digestive enzymes, but these enzymes are destroyed by cooking foods at over 108 degrees. Your pancreas produces many of the enzymes the digestive system uses to break down foods, but we often overtax this organ and don't give it the nourishment it needs to keep up. When we eat a lot more than usual and especially eating foods that are cooked or that are not particularly healthy, we can give our digestive system some help by taking digestive enzyme supplements.
When selecting a digestive enzyme supplement you want to make sure it is plant based and will work under a variety of pH levels since the acidity and alkalinity differs so radically between the stomach and intestines. The primary enzymes to look for on the label when choosing a supplement include:
Amylase – used to break down starch and carbohydrates for energy and to relieve mental fatigue.
Protease – used to break down proteins into amino acid peptides needed for healthy cells, muscle tissue, skin, hair and energy.
Lipase – used to break down fat in the small intestine to retrieve vitamins from foods, support cellular structure, and for healthy skin and hair. A shortage of lipase can compromise the circulation and contribute to high blood pressure and high cholesterol and degrade the immune system.
Lactase – used to break down lactose and milk sugars to get nutrients from dairy for energy.
Glucoamylase – a different type of amylase that works on breaking down starches and carbohydrates.
Cellulase – used to break down the indigestible fiber, cellulose, in fruits and vegetables.
Taking enzyme supplements can help remove toxins, increase energy, aid in weight loss, decrease the possibility of allergy reactions, and help your body extract the nutrients it can use from foods. When you know you are going to be eating rich holiday foods, taking a high quality enzyme supplement just before meals and in between meals can help you avoid digestive discomforts and is a much better alternative than using antacids. Antacids neutralize stomach acid which the digestive system needs to break down food. Taking enzyme supplements in between meals gives you the added bonus of letting any not needed for digestion directly to help clean up any undigested food in your gut and to enter the bloodstream to clean up residual food particles that might be identified as foreign invaders by the immune system.
Having a good supply of healthy probiotics, the friendly bacteria that live in your intestines, in your system is another way to get the most out of the food you eat, keep your digestive system in good working order, and help out with the extra eating during holiday meals. They also help produce the B vitamins that we use up in times of extra stress and we know the holidays are full of that. Lactobacillus probiotics also help in the body's production of digestive enzymes. There has additionally been research indicating that probiotics can lower the risk of coronary disease by absorbing cholesterol. They also help combat those unfriendly bacteria that can make us sick including those that act on the nitrates found in some of our food sources converting them to nitroso-compounds that can lead to cancers. Overeating, especially of meat, together with too many bad bacteria in the intestines can produce an excess in ammonia gas that stresses the liver. Using a bifidobacteria supplement can help take some of that stress off. There are fermented foods that can help you build up your supply of probiotics, but high quality probiotic supplements can insure that you are getting the strains of bacteria you need without the extra calories or extra eating in the holidays. Acidophilus and bifidus are the most common probiotics to make sure you are adding to your system, but a full spectrum probiotic may also be needed especially if you have ongoing digestive problems.
Don't let your holidays be ruined by digestive problems. Go ahead and enjoy some of your favorite holiday foods, in moderation of course. Just take along your enzyme and probiotic supplements to give your digestive system a holiday too by not letting it get overworked.
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