The role of digestive enzymes is to help breakdown carbohydrates, protein and fat into smaller absorbable units. Lack of the right type and amount of digestive enzymes alters the body's ability to absorb nutrients from the food ingested. Proteins are broken down by proteases into amino acids.Carbohydrates require amylases to break their chemical bonds, so they can be more easily absorbed in the form of simple sugars called monosaccharides. Fats are acted on by lipases, also termed esterases, they cleave the ester bonds within triacylglycerols, phospholipids,and cholesteryl esters.
The release of digestive enzymes occurs prior to food been eaten, the saying "You eat with your eyes" is correct as thinking about food, smelling and of course looking at food triggers the secretion of HCL and pepsin in the stomach. However being stressed, anxious and uptight has the reverse affect on the secretion of both digestive enzymes and HCL acid and may result in maldigestion. Digestive complaints and intestinal illness can be the result of ongoing stress.
As food moves out of the mouth and down the oesphagus into the stomach, specific hormones are released to effect the enzyme breakdown of foods. Gastrin is one of the hormones released in the presence of protein, impaired digestion may occur if the meal is too low in protein and gastrin secretion does not occur. The release of gastrin stimulates the parietal cells to secrete hydrochloric acid which acidifies the stomach contents, accelerating the breakdown of the food.
The majority of the digestive enzymes are secreted in their inactive forms, this prevents the body from digesting itself. Co-enzymes are required to activate the enzymes, the synthesis of co-enzymes are affected by zinc and manganese levels. Digestive problems may arise if there is reduced availability of these trace elements.
The release of digestive enzymes in the small intestine is dependant on the acidity of intestinal contents. Secretin and cholecystokinin are two hormones which are required to stimulate the pancreas to release digestive enzymes which are released into the duodenum. If the stomach contents in not sufficiently acidic secretion of digestion enzymes is impaired resulting in maldigestion and malabsorption.
The pancreas secretes enzymes in a bicarbonate solution to alkalise the intestinal contents and activate the digestive enzymes. The acidity of the stomach contents and the alkalinity of the intestinal contents is imperative for optimal digestion and absorption of nutrients. Hydrochloric acid secretion declines as we get older, this may result in malabsorption of nutrients. A digestive enzyme supplement such as All-zyme containing a range of digestive enzymes and betaine hydrochloride is an effective support for digestive tract function and nutrient absorption.
A significant proportion of the general population have an inherent condition which results in malabsorption and or maldigestion due to insufficient digestive enzymes. Some individuals are unable to digest certain animal and plant proteins as well as peptides derived from casein and gluten. These individuals may suffer from excessive flatulence post meals, bloating, constipation and diarrhoea, headaches and skin problems.