Digestive enzymes are essential for the process of digestion. The digestive enzymes are a specific group of enzymes that break the macromolecules in food such as fats, proteins and carbohydrates into their basic building blocks. This helps in the absorption of these nutrients into the blood. Lack of digestive enzymes can lead to indigestion and malnourishment despite consuming a nutritious diet.
Where are the digestive enzymes found in the body?
They are found in the digestive passage of animals including humans and even inside some carnivorous plants and help indigestion.
In the digestive system of humans the digestive enzyme is mainly found in:-
- Saliva is secreted by the salivary glands
- Gastric juices are secreted by the cells lining the walls of the stomach
- Secretions of the cells lining the large and small intestine
- Pancreatic juices are secreted by the exocrine cells in the pancreas. Most of the digestive enzymes in the body are produced by the pancreas.
What are the different types of digestive enzymes?
Based on the target substrates digestive enzymes are classified as follows:-
- LIPASES– They help break down fats and oils into fatty acids.
- POTEASES & PEPTIDASES – They help break down proteins into small peptides and amino acids.
- AMYLASES– They help break down complex carbohydrates such as sugar and starch into simple sugar such as glucose.
- NUCLEASES– They help break down nucleic acids into nucleotides.
What happens if digestive enzymes are insufficient in the body?
When there is a lack of digestive enzymes in the body, it leads to malnutrition despite having a healthy and balanced diet. It can also cause poor digestion, which can lead to signs and symptoms such as:-
- Bloating of abdomen
- Cramps post meals
- Greasy, yellow stools that float
- Offensive stools
- Weight loss despite eating well
What are the causes of the insufficiency of digestive enzymes in the body?
The various conditions that can lead to insufficient digestive enzymes in the body are:-
- Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency
- Chronic pancreatitis
- Cysts or benign tumours of the pancreas
- Narrowing or blocking of biliary or pancreatic duct
- Pancreatic cancer
- Cystic fibrosis
- Surgery of the pancreas
What is the management of digestive enzyme insufficiency?
The following tips can help in the proper management of cases where digestive enzymes are insufficient in the body:-
- Eat a low-fat diet. This can help reduce gas, bloating, pain, and stomach discomfort due to fat maldigestion. Although for people with cystic fibrosis, a high-fat diet is more favourable.
- Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits, which are rich sources of minerals and vitamins.
- Eat smaller and more frequent meals to reduce stomach pain.
- Take vitamin and mineral supplements mainly containing fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, and antioxidants selenium and vitamin C.
- Avoid consuming alcohol which can further damage the pancreas.
- Avoid smoking as it can increase the risk of developing pancreatic diseases like pancreatitis and even cancer.
- Consume foods that are naturally rich in enzymes. These include avocados, ginger, bananas, kefir, honey, kiwi, mangoes, pineapples, papayas, and sauerkraut.
What is the treatment for insufficient digestive enzymes in the body?
In the conventional system of medicine, the main treatment for insufficient digestive enzymes is pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT). Pills are prescribed during meals that replace the digestive enzymes that are not being produced by the pancreas. These enzymes help to break down the food so that it can be absorbed into the bloodstream.
However, this course of treatment has several shortcomings. It provides only a temporary solution to the problem. The patient can experience benefits only till the treatment continues.
Due to this, the patient becomes dependent on such pills, sometimes even throughout their lives.
Not only this, there are several side effects of replacement digestive enzymes. These include constipation, nausea, abdominal cramps and even diarrhoea. Some medications interfere with the proper functioning of digestive enzymes.
Also if the environment in the small intestine lacks bicarbonate and hence is too acidic the replacement digestive enzymes may fail to work well.
Administration of proper dose or ratio of these enzymes is another cause of concern in many cases.
Homeopathy on the other hand provides an effective and safe option for the treatment of digestive enzyme deficiency. Homeopathic medicine helps to treat the root cause of digestive enzyme insufficiency. Pancreatitis, diabetes and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency are common causes that lead to this problem. When the root cause is well treated the body becomes capable of synthesis these enzymes inappropriate amounts by itself.
The best homeopathic medicine to treat digestive enzyme insufficiency is constitutional medicine. For this trained homeopathic physician takes a detailed case history of the patient. He elicits relevant information from both the mental and physical spheres of the patient. When required past medical history and family history of the patient are also elicited to find the cause of this chronic problem.
Commonly indicated homeopathic medicines for indigestion are:-
ARSENICUM ALBUM– This is suitable to treat abdominal pain which is burning in nature and becomes worse at midnight. The pain is better by taking warm drinks. Frequent thirst for small sips of water and intense restlessness are characteristic indications of this medicine.
BELLADONNA– It is suitable to treat severe abdominal pain which may be cutting, griping, clutching or pinching in nature. This pain is better by pressing the abdomen. The pain characteristically comes suddenly, lasts for a while and then disappears suddenly. The pain worsens from the slightest motion.
COLOCYNTHIS– This is suitable for treating abdominal pain that increases from consuming the least food or drink. Applying hard pressure on the abdomen and bending forward reduces the pain.
IODUM– It is suitable to treat abdominal pain which is located in the pit of the stomach and in the back. The patient in general cannot withstand warmth. There is great emaciation and profound debility associated with the complaints.
IRIS VERSICOLOR– It is suitable to treat abdominal pain that gets better by bending forward and passing flatus. The pain tends to increase the night
Thus we can see that digestive enzymes play a crucial role in the process of digestion. They are present in the saliva as well as the secretions from the stomach, intestines and pancreas. Without these enzymes, there will be indigestion and symptoms of malnutrition despite taking an adequate and healthy diet.
Bloating, abdominal cramps, flatulence, loose, yellow, greasy and offensive stools as well as unintended weight loss are the symptoms seen due to insufficient digestive enzymes. As the pancreas is a major source of digestive enzymes in the body medical conditions affecting the pancreas such as diabetes, chronic pancreatitis, obstruction of the pancreatic duct, cancer of the pancreatic duct, tumour or cyst of the pancreas as well as any surgery of the pancreas most commonly lead to this problem.
Apart from a healthy diet and supplements, conventional medicine prescribes replacement digestive enzymes to treat this condition. This however provides only a temporary solution to this problem and it has many side effects too. Homeopathy instead provides safe and effective treatment for insufficient digestive enzymes. It is advisable to refer to a trained homeopathic physician who can treat this condition rather than self-drugging at home.