Digestive Enzymes: Gut Health Benefits and Beyond

07/12/2021 | 6 min. read

Dr. David Williams

Dr. David Williams

Every day, we’re presented with different situations that require solving in one way or another. In most cases, problem-solving involves carefully analyzing and then breaking down each individual component of the issue to develop a plan of action.

To some extent, we use this same formula when it comes to solving problems with our health. However, if we’re not careful, following this line of reasoning can lead to just treating the symptoms of a health problem without addressing the underlying cause. With health issues, it’s important to look at the overall big picture and determine why we have certain symptoms instead of just trying to eliminate them.

None of the body functions operate independently. Every organ and process that takes place is influenced by other organs and other processes. The digestive system and the numerous enzymes that it produces are one such example.

Let’s say someone was diagnosed with osteoporosis and then decided to take a drug to “treat” it. The symptoms might improve, but we have to ask why they developed the problem in the first place. If we looked closer, it might be that they were also experiencing dry skin, eczema, muscle cramping, bloating, hormonal issues, chronic fatigue, or some of the many other symptoms that could be related to a chronic lack of digestive enzymes. This is why treating a symptom does not always fix the underlying cause.

Surprisingly, the Cure Often Includes Digestive Enzymes

We rely on the digestive system to begin the break down the food we eat into the raw materials we need to grow and repair tissue, produce hormones, provide energy, etc. This process requires a never-ending supply of various acids and enzymes to operate correctly.

Unfortunately, as we age our gut becomes less efficient and we naturally begin to produce fewer of these components. As a result, our digestive tract gradually becomes more alkaline and it becomes harder to completely break down the proteins, fats, and carbohydrates in the foods we eat.

This can result in deficiencies and fluctuations in amino acid building blocks, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and hormones. The symptoms and health problems we experience can be extremely varied depending on the specific deficiency. 

Here are just a few examples of the types of problems that can be directly related to a lack of digestive enzymes.

Weight Gain

While taking digestive enzyme supplements will not guarantee weight loss, digestive enzymes are a huge factor in weight management.

Years of unhealthy eating habits combined with a lack of digestive enzymes is a recipe for weight gain. Poor digestion results in poor energy conversion and leads to food cravings, particularly simple carbohydrates and fats that can quickly result in increased fat storage, inflammation, and weight gain.

Hormone Imbalance

Without the proper digestive enzymes, nutritional deficiencies disrupt the endocrine system responsible for hormone balance. This is particularly true when it comes to fat absorption.

Fats are the basic building blocks for producing several hormones, including estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA, cortisol, and pregnenolone.

Also, to maintain the balance of estrogen and adrenal hormones, there must be adequate vitamin B6, B12, folate, magnesium, and the amino acid tyrosine.

Testosterone balance requires zinc and vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin.

Additionally, the thyroid gland needs specific amino acids like tyrosine and minerals like zinc and selenium.

Acid Reflux

Many people wrongfully assume that acid reflux is caused by an excess of acid production. But in most cases, it results from reduced acid production and a pH imbalance that can lead to bacterial overgrowth. 

Acid blockers may provide relief from the symptoms, but treating the cause actually involves stopping the bacterial overgrowth that suppresses stomach acid production.

These bacteria thrive on undigested carbohydrates. Digestive enzymes for acid reflux are critical. They can help promote the digestion of these carbohydrates, leaving the bacteria nothing to feed on. Again, rather than treating the symptoms, digestive enzymes work to remove the underlying cause.

Bloating & Gas

While a certain degree of bloating and gas might be normal depending on the meal, these problems shouldn’t occur regularly. The gas formation that leads to burping and bloating commonly stems from undigested food particles that begin to ferment in the moist and warm environment of the GI tract. 

Adequate amounts of digestive enzymes are needed to fully break down the various foods and help move them through the digestive system before they have time to ferment in the stomach and small intestine.

Bad Breath

Obviously, bad oral hygiene is a top cause of bad breath. Certain strong foods like garlic, onions, and coffee can contribute to the problem as well. However, bad breath is also one of the telltale signs of a lack of digestive enzymes and/or a microbial imbalance in the gut.

When the levels of beneficial bacteria in the gut are low, or if there are insufficient quantities of digestive enzymes being produced, once again fermentation of undigested food particles can take place and create foul odors. Digestive enzymes are one area that should be addressed in cases of chronic bad breath.

Pain-, Mood- & Fatigue-Related Conditions

Poor digestion can interfere with the assimilation of nutritional components like fatty acids, B vitamins, magnesium, iron, and protein. Several of these are necessary to help squelch inflammation and maintain the integrity of the walls of the GI tract. When the walls of the GI tract are compromised, inflammatory compounds and toxins can enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body, wreaking havoc on muscles and joints.

Inflammatory compounds have been shown to significantly influence brain function, causing anxiety, mood swings, depression, and migraine headaches. These conditions further illustrate how important digestive enzymes are in the prevention of health problems that would normally seem totally unrelated.   

Skin

Clear, radiant, glowing skin depends on proper digestion and absorption of a long list of vitamins and nutrients. The skin is the largest organ in the body, which explains why acne, rosacea, and other skin conditions readily crop up when there’s an imbalance in the digestive system.

Allergies

The importance of having adequate amounts of digestive enzymes to properly break down food is particularly evident when it comes to food allergies.

As I mentioned earlier, undigested food particles have been shown to cross through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream. The immune system recognizes these particles as “foreign” invaders and immediately begins to attack them. After several of these events, the immune system can become “trained” to consider a particular food as the enemy, which then becomes an allergen. When these foods are consumed, they set off a cascade of immune responses that can be anything from minor annoyances to hives or even something that requires a trip to the emergency room.

How to Boost Your Digestive Enzymes

To re-acidify your intestinal tract, boost digestive enzymes, and improve your overall digestive capabilities, take one or two digestive enzyme capsules 20 to 30 minutes before meals.

When shopping for digestive enzymes, look for a product that contains enzymes to help you digest the three main types of nutrients: proteases (for proteins), lipases (for fats), and amylases (for carbohydrates).

One crucial ingredient that I feel should be in a complete digestive enzyme supplement is bile. Bile is essential in the emulsification and assimilation of fatty acids needed in the production of energy, hormones, cellular membranes, nervous tissue, etc. Many digestive enzyme supplements fail to add this vitally important component, so be sure to check the label before buying.

Dr. David Williams

Meet Dr. David Williams

For more than 25 years, Dr. David Williams has traveled the world researching alternative therapies for our most common health problems—therapies that are inexpensive and easy to use, and therapies that treat the root cause of a problem rather than just its symptoms.

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