It is very common in our busy lives for people to experience some challenges with digestion. Now with Thanksgiving and the holiday season just around the corner, people are invited to parties and festive meals that often have an abundance of rich foods and tempting desserts which can add stress to our already sensitive digestive system. It is all too common to overeat during these times and many have regrets the next day. The digestive system gets overloaded causing a variety of different symptoms such as bloating, gas, heartburn, diarrhea, gastric discomfort and a general sluggish feeling the next day.
In addition to overeating or choosing foods that are difficult to digest, stress is probably the biggest factor that depletes our digestive system over time. During the stress response blood is shunted away from the digestive system to help the body adapt to the basic survival ‘fight or flight’ stress reaction. This combined with a diet high in processed foods, overeating, excess coffee or alcohol, the digestive system simply gets run down and tired and digestive enzymes become depleted. Also, as people age the natural production of enzymes and stomach acids decrease and there is an increased prevalence of protein malabsorption in older people.
Let’s review the basics of the digestive system and the role of digestive enzymes.
Digestive enzymes play a key role in breaking down the food we eat and if functioning optimally, they turn the food we eat into substances that the body can absorb in order to run more efficiently.
The saliva, pancreas, gallbladder, stomach, and small intestine all secrete enzymes, and the liver produces bile acids. There are many different enzymes that help breakdown a variety of different foods. For example, amylase breaks down carbohydrates, hydrochloric acid and proteases help with protein, lipase with fats, lactase with lactose and many others join the team to help the body breakdown the food we eat.
Digestive enzymes can help to take some of the stress off these organs that are working overtime. Many people feel tired after eating and that may be due to the fact that digestion uses about 80% of our energy during the digestive process. Have you ever noticed that if you eat while you are cold, or outside in cold weather, you suddenly feel colder? That is because much of your energy is going to the stomach and digestive system leaving less to increase body temperature.
Digestive Enzymes and BITTERS
There are many benefits associated with taking digestive enzymes to ease the burden on the digestive system. Some people may notice that they only have problems with certain foods or on certain occasions while others may experience digestive discomfort on a regular basis. Talk to the knowledgeable staff at the Vitamin Shop for guidance in choosing the right digestive product for you.
In addition to adding a digestive enzyme I love the European tradition of taking digestive BITTERS before, during or after a meal to help with digestion in general. In North America very few even know about these bitter digestive tonics that help reduce or eliminate many of the uncomfortable symptoms of weakened digestive system. Some of the benefits of bitters include: reduction in gas and bloating and heartburn, regular bowel movements, improved protein digestion, and overall better nutrient absorption. Different bitter products contain a variety of herbs. Some of the most common include peppermint, gentian, milk thistle, dandelion and chamomile.
Each individual has a unique digestive system and metabolism… some people seem to be able to eat anything – no amount of food seems to cause weight gain or distress while others simply seem to look at food and put on a few pounds. How is that fair, right? Digestive enzymes and bitters may be part of the answer.
If our digestive system is not functioning optimally, neither will we.
KAREN JENSEN, ND
Karen Jensen was in clinical practice for 25 years and although she is retired, she continues to write books and educate on the naturopathic approach to wellness. She is author or co-author of seven books, her most recent is Women’s Health Matters: The Influence of Gender on Disease.