Digestive enzymes are essential for optimal health, yet many of us take them for granted. They are responsible for enabling the body to break down and absorb nutrients from the foods we eat into usable components that can be utilized by cells throughout our bodies. When digestive enzyme deficiencies occur, however, a variety of symptoms present ranging from mild gas and bloating to more serious issues such as abdominal pain or nutrient malabsorption.
In this article, we have discussed common digestive enzymes and how their deficiencies affects your gut health.
What are Digestive Enzymes?
Digestive enzymes are biological molecules (typically proteins) that catalyze, or speed up, biochemical reactions in the digestive system. They break down complex molecules into smaller, more easily absorbed components such as sugars and amino acids, which the body can utilize for energy and growth.
Digestion can become impaired without adequate enzyme production or activity, leading to nutrient malabsorption and other health problems. Many factors contribute to efficient digestive enzyme production, including diet, age, lifestyle, genetics, and certain medical conditions.
What are the Different Digestive Enzymes in your Gut?
Amylase is an enzyme that helps to break down carbohydrates in the small intestine. A deficiency of amylase can lead to malabsorption of nutrients, which can have serious implications for gut health. Without sufficient digestion of these macronutrients, bacterial overgrowth and other issues may arise.
Symptoms associated with a deficiency include insulin resistance, obesity, low taste perception/satiety, and postprandial hyperglycemia . Individuals with pancreatic insufficiency or celiac disease are at higher risk of developing an amylase deficiency due to their inability to produce this essential enzyme. Treatments typically involve supplementation with oral enzymes or dietary changes. These therapies help to restore gut health by allowing the body to properly digest and absorb macronutrients from food sources. Additionally, probiotics and prebiotics can help to maintain healthy gut flora.
Lipase is an enzyme that helps to break down dietary lipids into smaller molecules so the body can better absorb them. Without it, fats remain undigested and can cause digestive problems such as bloating, abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, xanthomas, loss of appetite, myalgia (muscle pain), and arthralgia . A lipase deficiency can also lead to malabsorption of other nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, further complicating the issue.
Additionally, a lack of lipase can disrupt the delicate balance between beneficial bacteria and harmful pathogens in the gut microbiome leading to dysbiosis, which may result in chronic inflammation or autoimmune disorders. Supplementing with a plant-based source of lipase is often recommended for individuals with a deficiency to promote better digestion and ultimately improve overall gut health.
Protease is an enzyme that helps to break down proteins in the body, making them more easily absorbed by the digestive system. When protease levels are low, the body may not be able to fully digest and absorb dietary proteins, leading to decreased nutrient absorption, which can cause nutritional deficiencies.
Additionally, it can help support immune function by helping the body break down antigens from ingested food particles. Low protease levels can also lead to a compromised gut barrier, allowing bacteria and toxins to leak into the bloodstream and create systemic inflammation. This can result in a wide range of gastrointestinal issues, such as bloating, gas, abdominal discomfort, constipation, or diarrhea. Furthermore, low protease levels can lead t human skeletal dysplasia and elevated blood lysosomal enzymes 
Lactase is an enzyme produced in the small intestine that helps break down lactose, a sugar in milk and dairy products . A deficiency in this enzyme can lead to several digestive issues, such as bloating, cramping, diarrhea, and gas. These symptoms occur because the lactose isn’t broken down into smaller components which can then be absorbed by your body. As a result, it ferments in the intestines and causes gastrointestinal upset. Long-term deficiencies in Lactase can also cause vitamin or mineral deficiencies due to malabsorption. Therefore, addressing any Lactase deficiency is essential for maintaining gut health.
If diagnosed with lactose intolerance, several dietary strategies can help manage symptoms, such as avoiding dairy products entirely, taking over-the-counter supplements containing lactase, or consuming small amounts of dairy in combination with other foods to reduce digestive discomfort .
Sucrase is an enzyme responsible for the digestion of sucrose, more commonly known as table sugar. It is produced by the small intestine and helps to break down this type of carbohydrate, allowing it to be absorbed into the bloodstream . When sucrase is deficient or not functioning correctly, it can lead to gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain, nausea and loose stools. Additionally, it can contribute to a reduction in nutrient absorption from food leading to deficiencies in vitamins and minerals.
Sucrase-isomaltase deficiency (CSID) is a genetic disorder that results in reduced activity of both sucrase and isomaltase enzymes. This means that people with CSID cannot digest certain carbohydrates normally found in foods such as bread, pasta and other grains. Common symptoms of CSID include abdominal pain, bloating, cramping, watery diarrhea and flatulence .
What are Some Common Digestive Enzyme Deficiency Syndromes?
Common digestive enzyme deficiency syndromes include cystic fibrosis, pancreatic insufficiency, and Zollinger-Ellison syndrome. Cystic fib is an inherited disorder caused by a mutation in the CFTR gene that affects the body’s ability to produce enzymes such as pancreatic lipases and proteases. Pancreatic insufficiency occurs due to damage or dysfunction of the pancreas, leading to reduced production of digestive enzymes.
Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome is a rare disorder that involves tumors on the pancreas, which leads to increased production of gastrin hormone and subsequent overproduction of stomach acid. All these digestive enzyme deficiencies can cause symptoms such as fat malabsorption, abdominal pain, bloating, weight loss, and diarrhea.
What are Some Natural Sources of Enzymes?
- Fruits and Vegetables: These are great sources of dietary enzymes as they contain multiple natural enzymes that help promote digestion, such as bromelain in pineapple, papain in papaya, and amylases found in many fruits and vegetables.
- Probiotics: Probiotics are beneficial bacteria naturally occurring in fermented foods such as yogurt, kombucha tea, miso soup, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi.
- Herbs: Many herbs contain natural compounds that can work together to aid digestion by breaking down carbohydrates and proteins more efficiently. Some examples include ginger, fennel, anise, and dandelion.
- Spices: Certain spices like turmeric contain compounds that help stimulate proper digestion and increase nutrient absorption; other spices like cumin are great for improving gut health as they contain natural digestive enzymes such as alpha-amylases and diastase which
Digestive enzymes are essential to our gut health and make up a huge part of the nutrition that our bodies need to function properly. Deficiency of digestive enzymes can lead to various gut issues. Knowing which enzymes make up your gut infrastructure can help you to understand how your body handles digestion.
Nonetheless, gut issues due to enzyme deficiency can be easily managed with careful supplementation with natural or synthetic products.
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