Digestive enzymes are essential components of your gastrointestinal system. Enzymes found in saliva, the stomach and pancreatic juices collaborate with each other to break down the complex molecules in the food you eat to simpler substances that can be absorbed by the gut. Deficiencies in these enzymes will easily lead to indigestion. In worst cases, failure of the gut to properly break down and absorb the food you eat can cause diarrhea and disease-causing nutritional deficiencies. Your digestive system is equipped with an armament of natural enzymes that all aid in proper digestion, and these include the amylases, lipases and proteases. Aside from those that your body normally produces, enzymes may also be derived from a variety of foodstuffs in your diet. Like those in your gut, these food-derived enzymes, which include bromelain, papain, betaine hydrochloride and actinidain, are also very helpful in ensuring good digestion and absorption of nutrients.
Amylases are enzymes that destroy or hydrolyze chemical bonds found in carbohydrates. Found in saliva, as well as in gastric and pancreatic juices, amylases break down complex carbohydrates like starch in plants and glycogen in animals into simple sugars that your gut will have no trouble absorbing.
The pancreas produces and secretes an enzyme called lipase that degrades triglycerides and cholesterol in the food that you eat. Any shortage in lipase will cause deficiencies in the oil-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K). In addition, stool will tend to be very oily and foul smelling, a condition called steatorrhea.
Trypsin, chymotrypsin, elastase and carboxypeptidase belong to a group of enzymes called proteases. They break down big and bulky proteins found in meat to much simpler and smaller amino acids (building blocks of all proteins) that can then be absorbed by the body.
Bromelain is a protease found in pineapples. Drinking pineapple juice or eating the fresh fruit delivers great amounts of this enzyme, which aids in the digestion of proteins.
Papaya contains large amounts of an enzyme called papain, another kind of protease that helps in protein digestion. Unfortunately, most of the papain is found in the sap of the papaya tree, which is toxic when consumed, rather than in the fruit itself. Supplement companies are able to extract papain from the sap and market this as digestive aid pills. The proteolytic nature of papain is also being used commercially as an effective meat tenderizer.
6. Betaine Hydrochloride
This substance found in beets increases the secretion of stomach acid to promote the activation of enzymes naturally found in your body. Betaine hydrochloride is a useful supplement if you have low stomach acid (hypochlorhydria).
Similar to papayas and pineapples, kiwifruits are also blessed with a natural proteolytic enzyme called actinidain. When kiwifruits, papayas and pineapples are consumed together, their enzymes work in synergy to boost digestion. Since enzymes from these fruits are activated at different regions of the gastrointestinal tract, they take turns in ensuring that each segment of the gut is supplied with enzymes that aid in digestion.