As we get older, there is a natural decline in our digestive enzyme production. Eating healthy food is a good first step toward nourishing the body with the nutrients, minerals and energy for good health. To unlock the benefits of food, we need a good strong digestive process. Our stomachs don’t have teeth, or machinery with which to break down food, it uses digestive enzymes. Digestive enzymes are proteins that transform food from something we eat, into nutrients, energy, minerals and waste products.
Let’s take an orange as an example. When you eat an orange, you are eating a whole food. As you chew, the orange is made into smaller parts. Once you swallow, your stomach will produce acid and digestive enzymes that will get to work to create what’s called ‘chyme’, a liquid that has been split into very small parts. During this process, the vitamin C, fibre, potassium and folate are released from that orange, making it easier for your body to absorb. Once your stomach has created this chyme, it flows into your small intestine, which is in the upper part of the belly. Here, more digestive enzymes and gut bacteria work on the chyme to absorb nutrients and filter out waste.
A normal diet is made of fats, carbohydrates, proteins and fibre. Each of these food categories has a corresponding set of digestive enzymes that are responsible for releasing their nutrients and removing waste. Natural enzyme production begins to decline around the age of 40, which is why by time we reach our fifties, an excellent diet does not always mean great nutrition. The health benefits of food only help us when they are absorbed, and for that you need good digestion. This is why supporting your digestion as you age is vital.
In your fifties, digesting food may begin to feel more tiring, and you may feel sleepy after a meal. This is because the natural reduction in our digestive enzyme supply means your body is working to digest the same amount of food, but with less tools. Over time, digesting food can use more energy. You may find you have new food related experiences such as bloating, an intolerance to a favourite food or heartburn. All of these experiences can be due to the natural decline of our digestive enzymes.
The good news is, there are many healthy ways to support digestion, ensuring that you continue to gain nutrition from the food you eat. Good absorption of nutrition will help you remain energised, nourished and vibrant as you age.
Here is a short guide on how to support your digestion, particularly in your fifties and beyond.
- Eat mindfully
Healthy digestion begins with the thought of food. Just the thought of biting into a juicy lemon can flood the mouth with saliva, releasing digestive enzymes in your mouth and stomach. By thinking about food before you eat, and staying present when you eat, you help your body to digest food more easily. Digestion also works much better when you are in a relaxed state. Sitting down, thinking about your food and enjoying the process of eating will help you to digest more effectively.
- Stay hydrated
Every digestive process in your body requires water to work properly, especially stomach acid. If you are not drinking water, or you are consuming caffeine, your digestion may be affected. Water is needed for stomach acid production and also for healthy bowel movements, so don’t skip on your water.
- Chew well
Nutrients and minerals must be broken down by the digestive process before we can benefit from them. Give your digestion a head start by chewing food well. Eating fast or eating while you are active will reduce digestive power.
- Eat foods that have natural enzymes
There are many healthy foods that are full of natural plant enzymes that can help digest food. Pineapple contains high amounts of an enzyme called bromelain which can break down the proteins found in meat, fish and eggs. Papaya is similar to pineapple and also has strong protein digesting enzymes.
Plant enzymes are a great digestive aid because they offer so many extra benefits. Enzymes from plants not only help you to better digest your meals and absorb the nutrients within, but they also have a lot of anti-inflammatory properties. Anti-inflammatory effects of plant enzymes can also help with muscular aches and pains.
- Avoid heavy meals
The natural decline in digestive strength means that you are more likely to get good nutrition from eating smaller, more frequent meals rather than eating a very large meal every day. Small frequent, nutrient dense meals are an excellent way to support your digestion.
- Make use of digestive enzyme supplements
At the age of fifty, a digestive enzyme supplement is a fantastic way to help properly digest what you are eating. A digestive enzyme blend will provide your digestive system the support of enzymes it may no longer be producing, helping you better digest fat, carbohydrate, protein, fibre and even gluten. There are a range of digestive supplements available that can help you digest your meals more completely. The supplement I suggest for all my clients with digestive health issues is Digest Gold™ from Enzymedica UK. This is a broad-spectrum plant-based enzyme containing 13 different digestive enzyme ingredients plus ATP, Magnesium citrate, phytase and CoQ10.
It may sound cliché, but a good night’s sleep is also critical to healthy digestion. When you sleep, your body is able to detoxify and organise the clearing out of waste matter. Without sleep, all of the work of detoxing the body is left incomplete by the morning. Energy that should be spent on digesting food is then consumed with the work of keeping up your energy levels and removing waste from your body.
- Watch your energy levels
Good nutrition will give you good energy levels. A good energy level is the feeling that the energy you wake up with, is enough to meet the demands of your day. The process of getting great energy from food begins with eating good food and ends with digesting good food. A good first step to improving your natural energy supply, is to improve your digestion.
Written by Leyla El Moudden, Naturopath and Enzyme Educator for Enzymedica UK