Aging is an inescapable process we all will have to pass through. With aging comes physical and emotional changes. One of these changes has to do with the level of digestive enzymes. As the level of the digestive enzymes produced by the body goes down gradually with age, the efficiency of digestive processes decrease, resulting in health complications.
What are Enzymes?
Enzymes are a class of proteins (over 3,000 are known) which act as catalysts needed for execution of diverse biological processes in the body. Enzymes are essential for a variety of biological processes to take place such as nutrient circulation, waste elimination and prevention of infection, to name a few.
Without enzymes, nothing happens. No energy can be produced, no food can be digested, and no nutrients can be absorbed. Vitamins, minerals, and hormones can do nothing in the absence of enzymes.
Enzymes are NOT used "directly" during a process, yet their presence is ESSENTIAL for the process to happen. They either facilitate, or speed up a reaction.
When an enzyme deficiency exists, the food category dependent upon that enzyme does not get digested or absorbed properly. The result is intolerance to that food group (food allergy).
Enzymes get assistance from other elements, including vitamins and minerals, to perform their catalyst roles. These assisting elements are called coenzymes. These coenzymes are dependent upon available zinc and manganese. Deficiencies can result in digestive disturbances. One commonly known coenzym is the Q10 present in the mitochondria.
There are three main categories of enzymes.
Digestive enzymes (needed for specific functions as food passes along the digestive tract; each digestive enzyme has a specific function and is specific to a particular food category)
Metabolic enzymes (needed for specific functions as nutrition is turned burned into energy inside mitochondria)
Food-based enzymes (ingested enzymes which are found in foods; protein-rich foods are rich in enzymes)
In this blog post, we will look at the digestive enzymes and their role in aging.
What Is Digestion?
Digestion is the process during which the ingested food is broken down for extraction of nutrients for the body. Digestion starts from the moment the senses perceive the presence of food, and the enzymes amylase and lipase are released into the mouth in anticipation of consumption. Digestive enzymes are there every step of the way, from the time food gets in your mouth until it reaches the end point of the digestive tract.
There are several thousands of enzymes in our body. The most important ones are:
In addition to these listed ones, there is also pepsin, trypsin, chymotrypsin, bromelain and pancreatin, to name a few more.
Each enzyme has a specific role to perform.
For example, amylase breaks down complex sugars and carbohydrates into glycogen and dextrin.
Lactase transforms lactose into glucose and galactose for use by our body.
Lipase helps to convert triglycerides into fatty acids as well as promote digestion and absorption of nutrients in the intestines.
You may have heard that you are what you eat. That is not entirely true. How much of what you eat that is effectively digested and absorbed will determine who you are, health wise.
We are not what we eat, but what we digest and absorb.
You may be eating the best of food money can buy, but such food will have no benefit to you unless it is properly digested and absorbed, meaning you have to have optimal amount of digestive enzymes in your body to facilitate effective digestion and absorption.
Most enzyme actions are halted when food is heated above 116 degrees (Fahrenheit). Such food when eaten takes a heavy toll on the body as it is forced to tap into building materials meant for metabolic enzyme production to deal with the food needing to be digested. This could lead to serious health implications.
Aging and Digestive Enzymes
The ability of the body to produce enzymes starts to slump as early as age 20. Your enzyme level could be down by about 25 percent by age 40, compared to the peak level it was when you were very young. The amount is even more significantly lower by the time you attain the age of 60 or 70. One reason why this happens is that hypochloric acid production drops with aging. Hypochloric acid is essential for stimulating digestive enzymes in the stomach.
The consequence of low enzyme levels is quite obvious: foods are not properly digested.
This makes it hard for the body to make use of all the nutrients contained in the rich foods you might consume. And when your body is not getting adequate amount of nutrients, malnutrition sets in. This may explain why the health of some older people seems to suddenly take a dive for the worse. Among the numerous health issues that may arise in the presence of insufficient digestive enzymes are
high blood pressure,
Essentially, enzyme insufficiency could actually speed up the aging process.
Maintaining Adequate Digestive Enzymes
In the light of the issues that could arise with insufficient digestive enzymes, conscious efforts need to be made to supplement the natural levels in the body. This is especially more advisable for elderly individuals. Here are a few suggestions:
Eat raw foods more – If you want to get the most enzymes from your foods, you should start to eat more of these at raw or at least par-cooked state. Raw foods reduce the demands on the body to produce more digestive enzymes. We recommend avocado, pineapple, raw dairy and extra virgin olive oil.
Lower calorie intake – You can also boost the amount of enzymes at the disposal of your body by limiting your calorie intake. This advice will be better appreciated when you realize that most of your energy (and enzymes) are spent on digesting food, and calories are especially problematic. Reducing calorie consumption enables the body to direct greater energy to producing more enzymes.
Chew food well – Proper food chewing also helps to preserve the amount of digestive enzymes available. You have probably heard a health expert give a piece of advice on the need for chewing your food adequately, but chances are you never felt the need to heed such. You should. Saliva production is stimulated when food stays in the mouth for long, allowing enzymes present there to work more on the food. This helps to lessen the burden on the stomach and intestines when it gets there.
Consider use of supplements – You can get supplements for virtually everything these days. It is therefore not quite surprising to learn you can also get digestive enzyme supplements, which have to be taken with meals. Some of these known as systemic enzymes are absorbed from the digestive tract into the bloodstream when taken on an empty stomach. When taken with food, oral systemic enzymes help to drive digestion. They have also been used as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) substitutes in Europe for treating inflammation-related conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis.
If you decide to use a digestive enzyme supplement, it may be a good idea to have a chat with a homeopathic specialist. Also make sure that it is all-natural and contains different forms of enzymes, especially the primary ones - Amylase, Lipase, Protease, Cellulase, Maltase, Sucrase, Phytase, Lactase. It is also a before using any supplement as some digestive enzymes may interact with certain medications – for example, the enzyme papain and the drug warfarin.
More information on this topic can be found at Anti Aging Digestion published by