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The Power of Digestive Enzymes

Too often misunderstood, digestive enzymes have such an important role in sustaining life that I thought I should clarify a couple of myths.

1) Food intolerances and Indigestion are usually the result of enzyme deficiency and... 

2) Antacids do not improve digestion!! 

Find out more below


Enzymes make things go

When you think of an enzyme you might think of Pacman running around gobbling things up. In fact an enzyme is a protein molecule that acts as a lubricant (or catalyst) helping speed up chemical reactions. There are many different types of enzymes, which are highly specific to the substances they catalyze, and enzymes aid every metabolic function in the body.

Without enzymatic activity, life would be impossible because crucial reactions would be millions to billions of times slower without the lubricating catalytic effect of enzymes.


Where do enzymes come from?

Many enzymes are produced by our body whereas other enzymes are provided by the food we eat but only raw foods contain food enzymes eg; fruit and vegetables. Modern day factory processing methods such as pasteurizing, chemically altering, canning and preserving destroy the enzymatic breakdown of our food. (5)

Without enzymes there is no life and where there is no life in food there are no enzymes present. Something worth remembering when choosing the types of food you eat. We will talk about this further shortly. 

What is a digestive enzyme?

  • An enzyme is a substance that breaks the bonds between food molecules. 
  • Enzymes have a major involvement in some of the main processes performed by the digestive system.

First let’s step back and take a brief overview of the entire digestive process. There are six main processes involved in digestion:

1. First we have ingestion (the eating of food).
2. Next is propulsion, which is the process by which food is moved along the digestive tract.
3. Mechanical digestion describes the physical breakdown of food into smaller particles. It involves the first obvious mechanism of chewing, followed by churning in the stomach and then movement through the segments of the small intestine. This physical (mechanical) breakdown of food would only do a fraction of the job without the aid of chemical digestion.
4. Chemical digestion This is where enzymes step in. The chemicals used in chemical digestion are enzymes and acids made by the body. Once the food is broken down into molecules the next part of the digestive process takes place.
5. Absorption is when nutrients pass through the intestinal wall into the blood stream and lymph,  ready for transport to the cells and tissues of the body.
6. Last but not least comes elimination, the removal of undigested food and waste from the digestive tract.

Get just one of these processes incorrect and the following steps will be hindered also, thus beginning another process, the disease process leading to ill health. For example if you eat dead processed food (eg bread and pasta) motility decreases and the propulsion part of the digestive system falters. You get some digestive discomfort and then acid reflux because your full digestive tract pushes upward against your full stomach.


Just about everybody has suffered from indigestion at some point. The popular response to regular indigestion is to use antacids.  

Antacids prescribed by your doctor, say in the form of omeprasole or Losec, severely lower hydrochloric acid (HCl) production in the stomach. This is called pharmacologically-induced hypochlorhydria (3) 

However HCl is required to activate the enzyme pepsin, so now you cannot digest your protein properly…among other things….resulting in a distended bloated abdomen, increased constipation and reduced nutrient absorption.

Most indigestion and acid reflux is actually caused by insufficient levels of hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes. The prescribed drugs mentioned above exacerbate this.

For example: glands in the mucous-membrane lining of the stomach make and store an inactive protein called pepsinogen. Impulses from the vagus nerve and the hormonal secretions of gastrin and secretin stimulate the release of pepsinogen into the stomach, where it is mixed with hydrochloric acid and rapidly converted to the active enzyme pepsin.

The digestive power of pepsin is greatest at the acidity of normal gastric juice (pH 1.5–2.5). In the intestine the gastric acids are neutralized (pH 7), and pepsin is no longer effective. (4) In other words taking antacids with gretaly interfere with healthy digestion. 

What we really want to talk about today is the role of enzymes in chemical digestion.

Enzymes in Digestion

There are many enzymes involved in digestion. Some are made in your body and some aren’t. Let’s look at this in a little detail, just so you can see those enzymes you may need to get from your food.

The mouth
Amylase in saliva begins the chemical breakdown of food (starches in particular) in conjunction with the mechanical action of teeth.

The two main enzymes in the stomach are pepsin and lipase. Pepsin is produced and secreted by the stomach and starts the digestion of proteins. Lipase, produced by the pancreas and secreted in the stomach, starts the digestion of fats and triglycerides (lipids).

Fat enzyme

Duodenum (upper part of the small intestine)
Four pancreatic enzymes are secreted into this important part of the digestive tract: Lipase (breaks down fats as above); amylase (breaks down starch); trypsin and chymotrypsin which both break down proteins.

Jejunum and Ileum
Further along the small intestine this is the major site for the digestion of carbohydrates. Here the enzymes maltase, lactase and sucrase (carbohydrases) split the various sugar molecules of carbohydrates into simple sugars. 

Sugar enzyme

Peptidase continues the breakdown of proteins into amino acids.


Protein enzyme


Lactose intolerance

Lactose intolerance result from a deficiency of the milk digesting enzyme Lactase. Undigested lactose (from milk) then passes to the colon where fermentation produces hydrogen and short-chain fatty acids that can cause abdominal distention, pain and sometimes diarrhea. (2)

Prevalence of lactose non-digesters in Latin American populations ranges from 45% to 100%. However, this is not a reliable predictor of the acceptability of milk and milk products containing lactose. Milk is being used successfully for the supplementary feeding of children worldwide, and most lactose non-digesters can tolerate at least 240 ml of milk or the lactose equivalent in other products. (2)

It has been found that some yoghurt and the introduction of enzymes can reduce lactose intolerance. (2) 

Enzyme Deficiency

Sugar digesters
Lactase, sucrose, and maltase are present upper part of the small intestine. Deficiency of these enzymes leads to incomplete digestion of the sugars. This can result in symptoms of bloating, flatulence, and diarrhea.

Protein digesters
The body manufactures trypsin and chymotrypsin, so you don’t always need these from your food. Deficiencies in proteolytic enzymes can result from disease or stress on the pancreas. Symptoms include abdominal discomfort, gas, indigestion, poor absorption of nutrients, and passing undigested food in the stool.


It has been shown that if you have a diet low in food enzymes or if you have had stomach bugs or irritations that have caused diarrhea then you could become deficient in enzymes. (1) 



Diet and Food enzymes

Diets high in supermarket foods, or foods that have been processed in factories and no longer have living energy, have a decreased enzyme content. The food processing industry alters food in such as way that it becomes less digestible and also reduces the bio-availability of nutrients.  Over time your body can become depleted in its own ability to produce enough digestive enzymes to process this type of food. (5)

Food enzymes, can be found in raw foods like fresh fruits and vegetables when ingested as part of the diet. The ability of plant enzymes to assist in digestion is destroyed when foods are cooked, pasteurized or heat-processed as the heat changes the natural structure of plant enzymes and ruins their catalytic ability. 

Papaya and pineapple are two of the richest plant sources of food enzymes, as attested by their traditional use as natural "tenderizers" for meat. 



Our digestive system is heavily dependent on enzymes and the over consumption of processed food can be responsible for enzyme deficiency. 

Papain and bromelain are the respective names for the protein digesting enzymes found in fruits. These enzymes are included in the Herbal DETOX and BodiTune DETOX ‘n SLIM products to assist in the digestive process.

By improving digestion and  absorption of nutrients during a colon cleansing program the healing power of the body is greatly enhanced. Along with the focus on more fruits and vegetables and particularly raw food, the benefits can be astounding.

Most people report that digestion is vastly improved and many symptoms such as constipation, bloating & gas, IBS, indigestion and acid reflux are alleviated.  

Visit our reviews page to see what people are saying


Brett Elliott ®




(1) Examination of small bowel enzymes in chronic diarrhea. PUBMED

(2) [Lactose tolerance and milk consumption: myths and realities]. PUBMED

(3) Gastric Re-acidification with Betaine HCl in Healthy Volunteers with Rabeprazole-Induced Hypochlorhydria. PUBMED

(4) Pepsin Biochemistry. Encyclopedia Britannica.

(5) Advanced glycation End-products (AGEs): an emerging concern for processed food industries. PUBMED

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