Digestive Enzymes - The Hidden Dangers
Digestive enzymes are native proteins synthesized by our body to help in the breakdown and digestion of the food material into smaller molecules. Since our body can not absorb the large biomolecules found in our diet, they have to be degraded into smaller molecules (for example polysaccharides into mono and disaccharides, proteins to small peptides etc.) for absorption in the intestine. Digestion is a complex process which involves several chemical and mechanical treatments for the ingested food. It starts at the mouth and ends in the intestine. One of the major factors that are involved in the digestion process is digestive enzymes. Digestive enzymes are classified into four categories depending on their substrate specifity.
1. Amylolytic enzymes- break down polysaccharides in to mono and disaccharides.
2. Lipases- break down fats in to fatty acids and glycerol.
3. Proteases- break down proteins in to small peptides and amino acids.
4. Nucleases- break down nucleic acids in to nucleotides.
Digestive enzymes are often prescribed by some doctors as part of treatment for the malfunctioning of the digestive system. These supplements help the patients with compromised digestion process to cope up with the physiological requirements of the body. These supplements often include best quality of vitamins and other digestive enzymes, but we should use these supplements with a note of caution.
Digestive enzyme supplements help in the digestion process and support food absorption. People with digestive system disorders such as cystic fibrosis2 use these enzyme supplements to help with the normal digestion process. It can reduce digestive incapabilities that produce digestive system related problems such as lactose intolerance. Lactase is the dietary enzyme that is advised for patients with lactose intolerance. This enzyme is available without a prescription from the physician. At prescribed dosage, it does not cause any health problem, but higher doses of the enzyme often result in difficulty in breathing, rashes and swelling of the throat.
Periodic intake of digestive enzyme supplements compromise our digestive system as our body no longer requires to produce the same amounts of these enzymes for normal physiological activities of the digestive system. This makes our body to be absolutely dependent on the external supply of digestive enzymes and makes us completely dependent on them for the digestion process to occur. Many physicians and naturopathy programs advice people supplementation of HCl3 for patients with digestion problems. Although these enzymes have been reported to of therapeutic significance in the treatment of certain digestion related disorders, we still should rethink about considering external supplementation as an option until we are sure that the patient is deficient in the production of the acid in his body by natural methods. Before opting for the external supplementation, we should consider other natural ways of improving digestion process such as healthy diet and proper exercise. These things should be recommended first and only in the case of their ineffectiveness, we should prefer external supplements.
Beano is the commercial name given for the digestive enzyme that is administered to cure digestion problems associated with eating beans. At higher concentrations, it is very dangerous often resulting in the severe cramping of muscles. For the treatment of diabetes mellitus, the digestive enzyme Acarbose is often supplemented. The major function of this enzyme is to reduce the rate of carbohydrate digestion so that blood sugar levels rise very slowly. Abnormal usage of Acarbose is often associated with abdominal discomfort and diarrhoea. External supplementation of HCl is often considered to be dangerous if we do not use it properly. For example, it has been shown that improper use of HCl supplements can increase the severity of diarrhoea in patients with Colitis. We should examine the patient thoroughly to confirm that he is indeed deficient in producing HCl naturally in his body and then only should be advised for the external supplements to help with his digestion process. Without proper confirmation about the natural deficiency of HCl production, it would be extremely harmful to take HCl as it would decrease the cellular pH and would result in multiple abnormalities. For most of the digestive system disorders, the problem can be at various levels of digestion process. For example, in patients with Colitis, the likely reason for indigestion is the increased transit speed of the food caused by diarrhoea. In these patients, the ingested food does not spend sufficient time in the digestive tract for it to be properly broken down and made available for absorption. So, in such cases, external intake of dietary enzymes will be of no or less use. So, it is always advisable if someone thinks that he has low acid production, first he must consult the dietician and check the acid levels before opting for the HCl supplementation.
Supplementation with pancreatic enzymes4 is advised to patients with any condition associated with low enzyme production. In these patients, pancreatic enzymes are administered to digest the large biomolecules and macronutrients in the food. One disadvantage of external administration of these enzymes is that they cause many side effects including increased uric acid production. This is often associated with joint problems (Arthritis). This will be of serious concern if the patient is already suffering with kidney problems. It will only enhance the severity of the disease.
In the case of malfunction of the digestive system in producing these enzymes, Proper diet should create sufficient levels of these enzymes and often reducing the need for any supplementation for the maintenance of good digestion. For a short period of time, they can be helpful, but supplementation of digestive enzymes over a period of time often results in long-term dependency and weakens the inherent ability of our digestive system. Digestive enzyme supplements are advisable only for a short period of time and only in limited dose. Even if we are taking small dosages of enzymes, it can be an indication that our digestion system is under pressure and not coping with our body needs. Taking digestive enzyme as supplements is not going to strengthen our digestive system, if not compromising its inherent ability.
Healthy alternatives for digestive enzyme supplementations include eating raw beets, cinnamon, drinking fenugreek tea and always take sufficient amounts of water regularly.