Digestive Enzymes And Enzyme Supplements for a Modern Diet

Digestive Enzymes For A Modern Diet

There is an old Latin expression, “sine qua non,” which translates as, “without which there is not.” When it comes to health and nutrition, digestive enzymes may be the single most important “sine qua non.” Anyone who has any understanding of health knows that unless you are on a totally raw food diet you should take enzyme supplements with every single meal. If you are not regularly using digestive enzyme supplements, then take a moment to get a better understanding of this simple, inexpensive step that can dramatically improve your health and vitality.

Thorne Betain HCL & Pepsin
Thorne Betain HCL & Pepsin


In our previous report, Enzymes Defined, we explored the general nature of enzymes–what they are and what they do. In summary, enzymes are proteins that speed up chemical reactions. There are estimated to be 50-70 thousand different enzymes in your body that regulate every metabolic function needed to keep you alive. Without enzymes, all of these metabolic functions would progress through the same steps, but would go too slowly to sustain life. In essence, enzymes make life happen where otherwise there would be none. When it comes to digesting food, however, there are only a handful of enzymes that we need to worry about. Even so, choosing which ones to include in a supplement, and the ratios in which to include them, can be a daunting task for formulators…and for consumers when it comes to choosing which digestive enzymes to buy.

Before we get into the details of what constitutes the ideal digestive enzyme formula, let’s take a look at why we need to use such a formula.

Digestion the Way Nature Intended

Again, as we described in Enzymes Defined, nature intended that you eat enzyme rich food (all live foods have enzymes present in them that promote their own breakdown) and chew it properly so that it thoroughly mixes with your saliva (which is also enzyme rich). If you do that, the food enters your stomach laced with digestive enzymes. These enzymes then “predigest” your food for about an hour — actually breaking down as much as 75% of your meal.

In healthy digestion, it is only after this period of “predigestion” that hydrochloric acid is introduced to the process (along with the enzyme pepsin, which is secreted in the stomach). This acid/pepsin mix inactivates (but does not destroy) most of the enzymes used in predigestion and then begins its own function of breaking down any undigested protein content left in the meal, turning it into an amino-acid-rich concentrate. Note: stomach acid and pepsin only work on the digestion of proteins. They are not involved in the breakdown of fats and carbohydrates.

Cooking and Processing Destroy Digestive Enzymes

Man is the only animal (other than a handful of domesticated animals) that eats cooked and processed food! Unfortunately, it’s not only unnatural; it’s also decidedly unhealthy. Why? Because any sustained heat of approximately 118–129 degrees destroys virtually all enzymes, thereby disrupting the entire digestive process. In addition, most forms of food processing also destroy enzymes. When we refer to processed foods, we’re talking about anything made with white flour, white rice, pasteurized milk, processed cheese, chips, chemically preserved foods, soda pop, desserts, candy, TV dinners, etc. — all are devoid of enzymes.

The net result is that for most of us, the food we eat is severely enzyme deficient. Your body recognizes that the food you’re eating is devoid of enzymes and tries to compensate. For one thing, it releases more stomach acid than normal to compensate. Also, over time, it trains itself to pack your saliva with more amylase. Amylase levels in the saliva of people who eat a modern diet and don’t chew enough are as much as 40 times higher than in the saliva of people who eat a more natural diet — but it’s still not enough. The result is that instead of benefiting from predigestion as nature intended, the food you eat sits in your stomach for an hour, like a heavy lump, with little or no pre-digestion taking place.

But the problems don’t end with higher levels of amylase and stomach acid. The meal now enters the small intestine largely undigested. This forces the body to compensate yet one more time by forcing the pancreas to pump out huge quantities of enzymes to break down this largely undigested mush. Over time, this greatly stresses the pancreas, until it ultimately can no longer keep pace and starts producing fewer and fewer enzymes. This leads to tremendous inefficiencies in the extraction of energy and nutrients from your meals, is physically exhausting, and on top of everything else, the undigested food provides a vast breeding ground for all kinds of parasites and harmful bacteria as it moves through the intestinal tract and on into the colon. Is it any wonder that over 60 million people in the United States are affected with digestive disorders?