A healthy diet is essential to good health. To benefit from a good diet, we need good digestion to unlock the nutrients in our food and deliver energy to our cells. Healthy digestion begins in the mouth and stomach. Because poor digestion is often experienced further down the digestive system, in the small and large intestine, we often forget the critical role the stomach plays in preventing digestive problems from starting.
The majority of nutrient absorption occurs in the small intestine. The small intestine is designed to process small molecules. Large molecules like fat, carbohydrate, and protein must first be effectively broken down into smaller molecules in the mouth and stomach. For this to happen, the stomach must first ‘blend’ the food we eat into an ‘acidic puree’ called chyme. Digestive enzymes have a large part to play in creating the ‘acidic puree’, by breaking down large fat, carbohydrate, and protein molecules into smaller molecules, releasing microscopic nutrients for the gut to absorb.
Well digested chyme, at the right pH, has multiple health benefits, feeding good gut bacteria, releasing nutrients, and supporting the body’s overall energy levels. If the chyme contains larger molecules of food or is not acidic enough, nutrients will not be absorbed properly by the body. When food molecules are not digested effectively by our bodies the larger pieces of food can create an environment for unhealthy bacteria to grow and encourage inflammation in the small intestine. This is when “leaky gut” can start to show up, and if not taken care of, can lead to many other health problems over time.
Digestive enzymes are by nature very sensitive. The production and potency of our natural enzymes are affected by genetics, mood, diet, stress, age, lifestyle, and medication. This is why our sensitivities to food change over time, and why our digestion is affected when we are stressed or eating poorly. It is not unusual for someone to be ‘eating well’ and yet they are ‘digesting poorly’.
So how do we know if we need digestive enzyme support? A deficiency in digestive enzyme production or enzyme potency may initially be experienced as bloating, flatulence, and food intolerance reactions. We may also experience headaches or skin rashes and mood changes as the gut lining is irritated and eroded from the inflammation. As our happy hormone serotonin is largely produced in the gut, it’s easy to see how a mood decline can follow, with brain fog and fatigue setting in for some people.
Eating a variety of foods that provide a good range of different food groups including proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and adequate fibre will provide the body with exactly what it needs to ensure good overall physical and mental health. However, if that food is not broken down by an efficient digestive system, the benefits of those foods are greatly reduced.
If you are experiencing digestive troubles, a good first step is to address the first two stages of digestion, the mouth, and the stomach. Frequently, providing digestive support in these two areas will provide a great deal of relief from bloating, flatulence, and food intolerance reactions.
A digestive enzyme supplement can be taken with the first mouthful of a meal, to help provide enough digestive support to break down the foods thoroughly, into small enough particles to pass through the small intestine wall where the nutrients are absorbed into the body. Leyla Moudden, Naturopath, and educator for Enzymedica UK recommends Digest Gold a broad-spectrum vegetarian digestive enzyme for maximum protein, fat, carbohydrate and fibre digestion.