What researchers think is important to the human diet has changed over time.
Since 1994, the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) has helped guide the dietary habits of Americans, based on extensive research. From the Food Guide Pyramid in 1992, replaced by MyPyramid in 2005, to MyPlate in 2011, the agency has provided advice and recommendations for better eating habits. In spite of efforts to consume a balanced diet though, some Americans suffer from a variety of deficiencies. Adding enzyme supplements to the diet may help to regulate the body’s systems.
Many people assume that by eating foods considered healthy or labeled “all natural,” their digestive systems will do its job and provide adequate nourishment for the body, says Matthew I. Cooper, DC, founder of USA Sports Therapy in Aventura, Florida. “Unfortunately, that is not the case. Enzymes are the only things that can digest your food and deliver vital nutrients to your cells, where they are used to help your body function properly,” he says.
Scott Michael Schreiber, DC, certified nutrition specialist and licensed nutritionist in Newark, Delaware, explains that using enzymes can be a catalyst for reactions when a deficiency exists. One of the most common deficiencies is the lactase enzyme. “It has been debated whether this is in fact a deficiency or naturally occurs due to the fact that humans have only been drinking milk for a short amount of time in terms of evolution. Regardless, patients that are lactose intolerant benefit from lactase supplementation,” he says.
Research supports Schreiber’s claims. A 2008 article in Alternative Medical Review evaluated various forms of enzyme supplementation in clinical application for digestive and absorption disorders. The authors report that enzymes are beneficial, not only for digestive issues but also for other digestion-related conditions. The article found enzymes derived from microbial species to be safe and effective in the treatment of malabsorption and lactose intolerance.
Schreiber notes that other enzymes, such as proteases, lipases and amylases, when taken with food, may help with digestion. “These will stave some of the bloating that occurs when individuals eat certain foods,” he says.
Additionally, enzymes can be used for injury rehabilitation during the acute phase. “Proteolytic enzymes can be used to clean the ‘frayed’ end of tissue after an injury. This helps the body repair faster,” Schreiber says, pointing out that these should be taken on an empty stomach.
Avoid tummy troubles with the right supplements
Be aware though that taking enzymes as supplementation may result in some adverse effects. In some cases, enzymes may wreck havoc on the digestion system. “Several companies have developed technology that allow the enzymes to bypass the stomach acid and be absorbed in the small intestine,” Schreiber says. “Enteric coated are the most common, but there are others that are proprietary.”
Also, individuals who are allergic to pork should avoid taking digestive enzymes as they are derived from pork, according to Schreiber.
While enzymes might help bring the body into balance, it’s preferable to derive health benefits from food. Christina K. Major, Holistic Nutritionist and Naturopathic Doctor, owner of Crystal Holistic Health Consulting in Treverton, Pennsylvania, says. “it’s actually better to eat fresh foods with every meal because they contain the enzymes you need. Fermented foods are filled with probiotics and enzymes in higher amounts and are more biologically active.”