by Dr. Joseph Brasco
I’m a board-certified gastroenterologist, so—as you can probably guess—I see a lot of people with digestive issues. There are a lot of factors that go into digestive health, but I’d like to discuss two important elements to support healthy digestion: probiotics and enzymes. Unfortunately, most people don’t get enough of either in their diet.
The truth is that every bodily cell, tissue and organ depends on nutrient absorption and assimilation of food through healthy digestion. For me—and for the patients I see—that means getting enough probiotics and enzymes to ensure proper digestion, so let’s start with probiotics.
Most of us already know how important probiotics are for digestion and the absorption of nutrients—basically determining how well nourished we are. In short, probiotics promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the intestines, which greatly supports healthy digestion. Probiotics also support healthy immunity, absorption of minerals, synthesis of vitamins, production of B vitamins and even of certain enzymes. Likewise, probiotics play a key role in peristalsis, the process by which food and wastes move through the digestive system.
When there are not enough probiotics, the result is often felt negatively in the gut’s digestive process and in overall health—and our modern diet and lifestyle diminish our probiotic supply. For example, food processing, pollution, antibiotic overuse and more can reduce the good bacteria in our guts. Once the good bacteria are diminished, then the bad bacteria move right in.
The good news, however, is that consuming probiotics increases the size of good intestinal bacteria colonies called microflora, thus improving health and digestion. And know this: you need a diverse population of probiotics, too, since each probiotic strain can offer a different health benefit. Also, you need to have probiotics that “arrive alive.” In other words, you don’t want probiotic “die off.” You want them alive, so that they can accomplish their work.
Now for enzymes. . . there are three main types of enzymes: metabolic enzymes, digestive enzymes and food enzymes. Metabolic enzymes are instrumental in essential body functions; they keep the body humming along.
Digestive enzymes are secreted by the salivary glands, stomach, pancreas and the small intestine. They break down large food molecules into smaller units that can be absorbed by the blood and into cells, which is how the body gets nourished from the food we eat. Digestive enzymes speed up the digestive process, and without digestive enzymes, food molecules would break down far too slowly to be absorbed.
Food enzymes are found naturally in raw, uncooked foods and help digest those foods so their nutrients can be absorbed into the bloodstream. Food enzymes also help digest food so that it can be absorbed properly by the body. Food enzymes are destroyed, however, when heated above temps of approximately 115º Fahrenheit, which includes most, if not all, of the modern diet.
That’s why we usually lack enzymes from food---because we cook them to death!
Without those enzymes, our digestive systems work harder to digest food. In fact, cooked foods can take up to two or three times longer to pass through the digestive system than raw foods do. Eating enzyme-dead food also taxes your pancreas and other organs from the wear-and-tear they undergo digesting mostly cooked foods. Additionally, the more stress put on these organs, the less time they have to rebuild cells and tissues or keep the immune system strong.
You require an array of enzymes, too, because different enzymes are necessary for full digestion. That makes enzymes an essential part of the digestive process, which, by the way, takes up more of your body’s energy than you might think—about 80 percent. You may also want to know that cultured dairy foods, such as yogurt and kefir, are packed with both probiotics and enzymes, while enzymes are found naturally in raw, uncooked foods. In fact, most raw foods contain the very enzymes your body needs to digest that food.
The bottom line is that your digestive system is your body’s source of growth, repair and energy, so feed it what it needs, including probiotics and enzymes. They’re digestion’s dynamic duo.
Dr. Brasco earned his Medical Doctorate at the Medical College of Wisconsin and completed his residency at the University of Illinois, Chicago. He is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine in both Gastroenterology and Internal Medicine, and is a valued medical consultant for Garden of Life in the area of digestive health. Dr. Brasco currently practices at Huntsville Colon & GI Consultants, LLC, in Huntsville, Alabama.