Facebook Icon Youtube Icon
Facebook Icon Youtube Icon
Facebook Icon Youtube Icon

Digestive Health 101: What are Digestive Enzymes?

The complexities of digestion rival the most intricate biologic processes and are essential to health and well-being.

Often given little consideration compared to other major organ systems like cardiovascular and neurological, the complexities of digestion rival the most intricate biologic processes and are essential to health and well-being.

It all starts with chewing. Digestion is about taking in the food we eat, breaking it down into molecular forms, preparing it for absorption, followed by metabolism in the liver for utilization as the essential nutrients that sustain life.

During the process of chewing, the digestive enzyme amylase is secreted and begins the process of breaking down carbohydrates like breads, cereals, rice and potatoes. As these carbohydrates move along the digestive tract and into the small intestine, the pancreas secretes supplementary amylase to complete the process. Carbohydrates have been transformed into glucose molecules ready for absorption and utilization as the body’s primary form of energy.

In response to ingested proteins like meat, fish and tofu, the stomach secretes pepsin, which initiates the process of breaking down proteins into substances called amino acids. As this slurry of digesting proteins enters the small intestine, the pancreas secretes supplementary pepsin and the enzymes trypsin and chymotrypsin, which completes the activity of protein cleavage into amino acids ready for absorption and transportation to the liver where they will be metabolized into building blocks for cellular and tissue regeneration.

Foods containing fats like olives, nuts, soy and salmon are emulsified by bile acids secreted from the liver. Although bile is not officially an enzyme, it works to aid the action of lipase which is the primary enzyme for the cleavage of fats into fatty acids. Fatty acids serve as critical components of cell membranes, cellular energy and molecular building blocks for hormones and other biologically active substances.

Lactase, another digestive enzyme, digests milk and dairy products creating lactose. As a carbohydrate, lactose like glucose, provides the energy necessary to drive organ & cellular function.

This is Dr. Jim for Be Healthy! Be Happy! stay tuned for a Digestive Health 102 where I describe conditions which impair digestive processes. Get prepped to power your path to happiness!

Reference:

Carroll, R., 2007. Gastrointestinal System: Digestive Enzyme. Online [available at]: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/biochemistry-genetics-and-molecular-biology/digestive-enzyme [Accessed] May 19, 2018.