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 to help maintain 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:
- Protease breaks down protein into peptides and amino acids.
- Amylase converts starch into simple sugars that your body can absorb.
- Lipase breaks down the fats in foods for optimal absorption.
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 issues either an enzyme blend or a commonly-prescribed medication. After five days, the enzymes provided equal or better relief than the medication, without significant 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.
Support Your 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 supporting your immune system and maintaining blood sugar levels already within a normal range to supporting healthy weight management and encouraging a positive mood.
When it comes to digestion, though, probiotics are your body’s tiny superheroes! Not only do beneficial bacteria help to crowd out harmful microorganisms that could be in your food, but they are key players in supporting 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. For example, certain strains of beneficial bacteria produce lactase, the enzyme required to digest dairy. In one research trial, lactose intolerant individuals who took Lactobacillus reuteri showed improved digestive comfort when ingesting dairy products2.
Furthermore, probiotics support your overall nutrient absorption, so you can continue to reap the full benefits of all the healthy foods you consume.
5 Steps to Maintain Optimal Digestion
If you're looking for some easy ways to support your digestive system, these five simple steps will help keep your digestion 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.
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 is a great game plan for maintaining healthy, comfortable digestion.
- Don’t eat proteins and starches in the same meal, as they require different pH levels to digest and will neutralize each other in the stomach.
- Don’t combine fruits and vegetables because fruits don’t fully break down until they reach the small intestine. If they get trapped in the stomach with other foods, your digestion is impaired.
- Do eat melon by itself—it doesn’t digest well with any other foods.
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. Supplementing with digestive enzymes and a high-quality probiotic can help maintain your healthy digestion through all of life's changes and challenges.
PRO-15 is a multi-strain probiotic formula specifically designed to give you the microbes you need to support healthy digestion. With fifteen targeted probiotic strains and the patented BIO-Tract® delivery method, PRO-15 delivers friendly bacteria right to your gut where it can thrive and colonize.
Food gives us the energy we need to live our healthiest days, but we must be able to digest and absorb the nutrients we eat to benefit. That's why it's so important to care for all the components of the digestive process in order to feel our best.
Eating healthy, whole fermented and raw foods—along with taking supplemental probiotics and digestive enzymes—can support your precious digestive system and encourage the vibrant energy you need to truly enjoy and appreciate each and every day!References:
1. Quinten, T., Philippart, J., Beer, T. D., Vervarcke, S., & Driessche, M. V. (2014). Can the supplementation of a digestive enzyme complex offer a solution for common digestive problems? Archives of Public Health, 72(Suppl 1).
2. Ojetti, V., Gigante, G., Gabrielli, M., Ainora, M.E., Mannocci, A., Lauritano, E..C, Gasbarrini, G., Gasbarrini, A.(2010). The effect of oral supplementation with Lactobacillus reuteri or tilactase in lactose intolerant patients: randomized trial. European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences, 14(3), 163-170.
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.