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  • Enzymes: Beyond Digestion

    Enzymes aren’t just vital for digestion—they’re important for the function of every cell in the body. In order to maintain balance in the structure and function of cells, tissues and organ systems, there are millions of metabolic enzyme reactions happening in your body.

    Where do enzymes come from? Enzymes are proteins made by the pancreas, liver, gall bladder and other organs—as well as by every living cell—to enable biochemical reactions. Digestive enzymes are particularly important because they break down food (including protein, fat and carbohydrates), a process that in turn provides energy to the body. Digestive enzymes are made primarily in the pancreas.

    Enzymes are also available in raw foods in our diet (but once foods have been heated/cooked or processed, the enzymes become damaged and unavailable for assisting digestion of that food). Pineapple enzymes (known as bromelain) and papaya enzymes (papain) are two highly concentrated raw sources of enzymes that can be especially helpful, and both are commonly sold in supplements.

    You may also want to supplement if you’re experiencing symptoms such as painful digestion, gas/bloating, heartburn and diarrhea/constipation. Supplementing with plant-based digestive enzymes can also increase the body’s capacity to produce other systemic, inflammation-fighting enzymes—more on that below.

    Digestive Enzymes to try:
    Digest Gold from Enzymedica
    Integrative Therapeutics’ Similase
    Rainbow Light’s Advanced Enzyme System
    Papaya Enzymes from Pharmaca and Zand

    The digestive tract isn’t the only place our body uses enzyme reactions, however. Systemic (also known as proteolytic or metabolic) enzymes can help break down inflammation in the body. Inflammation is mediated by the immune system and is a natural and necessary response in every cell of the body. However, higher levels of inflammation have been associated with aging and it’s important to maintain a healthy inflammation response.

    Enzymes can help decrease inflammation in different bodily systems (e.g. joints, heart, lungs, blood, immune, breasts, prostate, skin), and supplementation with systemic enzymes can help with aches, pains and muscle soreness from everyday activity. Experts believe that systemic enzymes can also help cleanse blood of foreign invaders such as viruses, therefore strengthening the immune system as well as breaking down scar tissue in the body.

    Are digestive and systemic enzymes one in the same? It’s believed that enzymes are utilized differently when taken at different times. When enzymes are taken with a full stomach, for example, they will work on digesting food. If taken on an empty stomach, they can help break down other proteins in the body, such as those causing inflammation.

    But supplement forms of digestive and systemic enzymes generally contain different levels of enzyme activity to accomplish what’s desired. Though you may see some positive benefits by taking a high-quality digestive enzyme on an empty stomach, it won’t generally have the same effect as taking a formula that is optimized for systemic use.

    Systemic enzymes to try:

    Wobenzym from Garden of Life
    Bromelain from Jarrow Formulas or Pharmaca
    Enzymedica’s SerraGold (helps improve circulation, speed tissue repair, alleviate joint discomfort, support heart health and relieve respiratory complaints)
    Enzymedica’s Natto-K (to support circulation)
    Enzymedica’s ViraStop (to help breakdown toxins and debris in blood)

    Ultimately, the body is designed to make the digestive and metabolic enzymes we need. But just like many other bodily functions, this process slows as we age. By supplementing with digestive enzymes the body can focus on making metabolic enzymes—the “energy of life” needed to forge every biochemical reaction in the body.

  • Good Digestion All Stars

    Digestion issues? Good news. There are a variety of tools that can help smooth out indigestion and other intestinal issues. Here, Kate Brainard, naturopathic doctor, gives some suggestions for natural digestive aids that can make everyday meals more pleasant.

    If you need long-term digestive support

    "There's not anyone out there that shouldn't be on a probiotic," says Kate. "Especially if you have regular bouts of indigestion, like constipation or diarrhea, probiotics are crucial."

    For travel-ready probiotics that don't need refrigeration, turn to Dr. Ohhira's or Jarrow Formulas' Jarro-Dophilus EPS. But Kate's favorite is Bio-K: "It's a life-changing product. They're in a live culture, so once it goes into the digestive tract it immediately starts colonizing," says Kate. "I've had people say 'this product has saved my life'."

    If you're about to eat something you know doesn't agree with you   

    "If you're eating a big meal, or something that you know will cause heartburn," says Kate, "that's a great time to take enzymes to help break down the food." As we age, especially, our natural production of enzymes decreases and can leave behind big food molecules that enter the bloodstream and throw our immune system out of whack.

    That's why Kate suggests taking enzymes right at the beginning of a big meal. "It's going in and supplementing what your body is already making," she says. For a simple approach, chew papaya enzymes like Zand Herbals' Quick Digest. You can also try MegaZymes by MegaFood, a formula that combines powerful enzymes with probiotics, as well as carminative (or gas-fighting) herbs like ginger and marshmallow. For more chronic digestive issues, try Enzymedica's Digest Gold.

    If you tend to get heartburn

    Heartburn can come from a number of issues, including dysfunction in the lower esophageal sphincter caused by low stomach acid, hiatal hernia or even certain foods (acidic or fatty foods are often culprits).

    If you're worried about heartburn, take some preventive measures-Kate recommends Natural Factors' Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice (DGL) , which goes in and coats the lining of the esophagus to promote healing. "It doesn't necessarily treat the heartburn, but will definitely make the meal experience more pleasant," she says.

    Kate also suggests a customer favorite called Heartburn Free, from Enzymatic Therapy. Formulated from orange peel extract, the capsules only need to be taken every other day until you get more permanent relief.

    If you overeat

    Those carminative herbs--like fennel, ginger and other spices--can be a great post-meal digestive as well. Try a cup of hot tea like Traditional Medicinals' Eater's Digest, which combines digestion-enhancing herbs with the benefits of warmth, which Kate says will naturally help move digestion along. Or simply take a few of Gaia Herbs' Gas & Bloating capsules.

    Ultimately, Kate recommends simply slowing down and enjoying your holiday meals. "We all know that this is the time we're going to indulge," she says. "But you're going to walk away feeling a lot better if you can take breaks between eating."

    Bring your specific digestion questions to a Pharmaca practitioner.

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