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Digestive enzymes - Do they work?

Posted Dec 10 2008 12:00am

My roommate bought a bottle of plant-based enzymes and was asking me about them. Enzymes are proteins made by your body to do a number of functions, one being to break down food. Specific enzymes work on specific types of food, so there is no one enzyme that can do all the work. Some people attribute digestive problems to a lack of these enzymes, and turn to supplements for relief. Lactase is just one example of an enzyme that is helpful by breaking down the sugar in dairy products (lactose) for those with lactose intolerance.

When you eat protein, your stomach breaks it down. So when you take enzymes (also proteins), they are also denatured (ie: broken) by the hydrochloric acid (HCl) in your stomach. One way around this is in the type of coating in the capsule that makes it resistant to HCl acid so it can travel to the small intestine.

But do we need more enzymes?? Enzyme deficiency is rare, and if you do have a deficiency in an enzyme, it likely needs to be treated with specially made enzymes prescribed by your doctor. However, most people’s bodies make all the enzymes they need and over the counter enzyme supplements are likely to be more harmful to your wallet than they are helpful to your gut. Lactose intolerance is one exception and is extremely common, especially among various ethnic groups. Most people produce less lactase as they age, and may need supplementation to avoid discomfort from dairy. These supplements need to be taken within minutes of eating dairy in order to prevent them from being broken down by HCl.

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