Happy Holidays and Healthy Digestion: They Really Can Go Together!
By Dr. Holly Lucille
The holidays present real challenges to our digestive system.
You know how it goes. Everyone meets at a relative's house and that usually means tons of snacks AND a big meal. You try to hold back, because you know the outcome. Yet family pressure and the spirit of the season encourage you to overindulge. It's something we've all done.
Where holiday meals are concerned, the biggest challenge can be how to enjoy a little extra seasonal cheer without a lot of suffering. One answer: supplemental enzymes. The measure of pH (potential of Hydrogen) is important in any discussion on enzymes. Enzymes act as specialized machines in the digestive tract, breaking apart different food components-protein, fats, sugars-at different pH levels. The pH scale of acidity and alkalinity spans from 0 to 14. A neutral pH is 7. The stomach is extremely acidic with a pH range of 1 to 3, while the small intestine can get quite alkaline, up to about 9 and even 10. Thus, a supplemental enzyme product incorporating a wide range of enzymes that are active at different pH levels provide the best results.
Amylase: The starch-digesting enzyme
Just the smell of something good cooking in the kitchen-roasting turkey, baking sweet potatoes-is enough to activate amylase, a starch-digesting enzyme. Amylase is found in saliva and throughout our digestive system, and it is the first enzyme food encounters in our bodies. Think of it as the "mouth watering" enzyme. Amylase is active in a pH range of 4 to 6, so it's considered ever-so-slightly acidic.
After food enters the acidic environment of the stomach, it is churned into smaller and smaller pieces by stomach acid and enzymes, such as pepsin, which begins breaking down proteins. From there, the first stop is a region of the small intestines called the duodenum. Once food is in the intestines, digestive enzymes really go to work.
Proteases: The protein busters
Proteases are the primary protein-digesting enzymes. The best supplemental enzymes contain a blend of proteases that are generally active across the board with a pH range from 2 (very acidic) to 10 (very alkaline). Like many, you will likely consume more protein than usual over the holidays. Second helpings can be hard to resist. However, there is some positive benefit, especially if you give your digestion a supplemental boost. These extra proteins are broken down by proteases into amino acids that help build and maintain muscle tissue, hair and skin, and provide lasting energy.
Fat digestion: More important than you think
Fat digestion begins in the second part of the small intestine, called the jejunum. Lipase enzymes, created by the pancreas, begin the process. Usually, we don't like to think about digesting fat. If we get any fat through food, we want it to evaporate or disappear, not digest. However, proper fat digestion is important and necessary as they help build the cellular structures that support healthy skin and hair. Additionally, fatty acid absorption is one of the end products of lipase action, and you need lipase and bile (secreted by the gall bladder) to absorb fat-soluble vitamins, including A, D, E, and K. A good enzyme supplement will pair lipases with a combined pH range from 4 to 8.
Sugar digestion: Using our body's main source of energy
For many health-conscious people, the very word "sugar" conjures images of candy bars and weight gain. The truth is sugar is our main source of fuel. Sucrase, maltase, and lactase are major sugar-digesting enzymes.
Each one of these enzymes breaks down specific sugars-sucrose, maltose and lactose-by separating them into simple sugars or monosaccharides. This makes them easily absorbed by the small intestine for use by the body as energy production. The pH range for these sugar-digesting enzymes span from 3 to 8, and they are active in the stomach and intestine.
Lactase may be of special interest for anyone experiencing difficulty digesting dairy. Lactase breaks down lactose, a milk sugar. Some of us simply don't have enough lactase on board naturally to deal with digesting milk-based foods. Here again, supplemental enzymes may help.
Other carb-digesting enzymes
Of course, there are other kinds of carbohydrates besides starches and sugars. Some of them make up the structure of the fruits and vegetables we eat. Two enzymes that break them down are cellulase and phytase. Cellulase breaks down cellulose, an indigestible fiber found in many fruits and vegetables and is active in a pH range of 4 to 6. Phytase specifically breaks down phytates, found in the leaves of plants (think lettuce, spinach, and other salad greens). Phytase also supports mineral absorption and bioavailability of iron, zinc, calcium, and magnesium-especially important for healthy bones and energy levels. Its activity range is a pH of 5 to 7.
Our ability to digest foods properly tends to decline with overeating, so if you're starting to feel less able to enjoy your meals fully, you may need to supplement with digestive enzymes. A strong, vegetarian-based enzyme formula with broad-spectrum pH activity can tame the gas, bloating, and indigestion that too often accompanies holiday feasts. When luscious holiday fare proves too hard to resist, supplementing with strong digestive enzymes can make your season much merrier.