A fully functional digestive system is an incredible feat of nature. From mouth to colon, the food we eat must travel through nearly 30 feet of digestive tract, a process that can take more than 24 hours! Like a perfectly balanced recipe, several digestive “ingredients” work together throughout this process to help our body break down and absorb nutrients from food as it makes the long journey.
So, how do you make sure your body has everything it needs to process all the healthy food you eat? Two of the most important ingredients for healthy digestion are digestive enzymes and probiotics.
What are Digestive Enzymes?
Digestive enzymes are proteins produced in the body that split up food molecules into their smaller building blocks for easy absorption into your bloodstream, where they can nourish your entire body. Different types of enzymes break down the various foods that travel through your G.I. tract.
Digestive enzymes fall into three main categories:
Did you know that proper digestion begins with chewing your food? Enzymes are produced in the salivary glands, stomach, pancreas, liver, and small intestine to digest your food during its entire passage through the digestive tract. Amylase and lingual lipase, enzymes present in saliva, begin to break down starches and fat as soon as you start chewing, preparing them for the long trek through your body.
When your system is low on digestive enzymes, it can have a hard time breaking down certain foods. Because our body’s enzyme production may decline with age—and as a result of environmental pollution, genetics, and processed foods in our diet—researchers are finding that supplemental enzymes may help with many digestion-related complaints.
In one study, researchers gave volunteers with common digestive problems either an enzyme blend or a commonly-prescribed medication. After five days, the enzymes provided equal or better relief than the medication, without the alarming side effects1.
Having the right makeup of enzymes is crucial for optimal digestion, but having the right microbes deep within your gut is equally as important.
Better Digestion with Probiotics
Probiotics are the beneficial microbes that form part of your human microbiome—all the microscopic organisms living on and in your body. The good guys (comprising 85% of a balanced microbiome) play a tremendous role in keeping you healthy, from regulating your immune system and balancing your blood sugar to helping you maintain your weight and influencing your mood.
When it comes to digestion, though, probiotics are your body’s tiny superheroes! Not only do beneficial bacteria work to crowd out harmful microorganisms that could be in your food, but they are key players in the entire digestion process.
Remember how digestion starts in the mouth? Well, as the food you chew and swallow makes its way into the intestine (where your gut microbes live), the good guys continue to break it down into smaller components that your body can absorb.
Probiotics even produce their own enzymes, enabling you to digest your food more thoroughly. This is why some people who have trouble digesting lactose can better tolerate it when taking probiotics. Certain strains of probiotics produce lactase, which digests the lactose before it can cause temporary digestive issues like bloating and gas. In one research trial, lactose intolerant individuals who took Lactobacillus reuteri showed improved symptoms when ingesting dairy products2.
Furthermore, probiotics improve your overall nutrient absorption, helping you absorb all the valuable vitamins and minerals you need to thrive.
5 Steps to Optimal Digestion
If you feel your digestion is sluggish at times, these five simple steps will help get you back on track:
1. Eat Raw: Raw, unprocessed plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, and nuts are excellent sources of enzymes. Cooking destroys the natural enzymes in foods, so go raw as frequently as possible for enhanced digestion.
2. Try Fermented: Rich in nutrients, fermented foods—like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kombucha—provide a powerful one-two punch of enzymes and probiotics. In fact, by the time they hit your mouth, fermented foods are already partially digested by the beneficial bacteria, making digestion and nutrient absorption a piece of cake (fermented cake, that is).
3. Combine Foods Properly: Making sure to eat foods that combine well together can greatly improve your digestion.
4. Eat 2-3 Hours Before Sleep: Waiting at least 2-3 hours after you eat to sleep gives your gut time to clean out and repair while you rest. Also, try fasting from an early dinner in the evening until a late breakfast the next day to give your gut a break.
5. Supplement with Probiotics and Digestive Enzymes: Due to our modern lifestyles, even the healthiest eater may not be able to consume enough probiotics and enzymes through diet alone. Many factors—such as stress, processed foods, medications, and antibiotics in food and as medicine—can deplete the good bacteria in our body and cause our enzyme production to take a dive. This is why health experts recommend supplementing with digestive enzymes and a high-quality probiotic.
PRO-15 is a multi-strain probiotic formula specifically designed to give you the microbes you need for optimal digestion. With fifteen targeted probiotic strains and the patented BIO-Tract® delivery method, PRO-15 delivers the bacteria right to your gut to help you digest.
Food gives us the energy we need to live our healthiest days, but we must be able to digest and absorb the nutrients to benefit. And if any components of the digestive process are missing or out of balance, we can experience temporary issues such as bloating, constipation, gas, or cramps.
Eating healthy, whole fermented and raw foods—along with taking supplemental probiotics and digestive enzymes—can enhance your digestion and give you the energy you need to truly enjoy and appreciate each and every day!References:
Julie Hays is the Communications Director here at Hyperbiotics. Health writer and mama of three little girls, Julie's on a mission to empower others to live lives free of the microbial depletion many of us face today. For more ideas on how you can maximize wellness and benefit from the power of probiotics, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.