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Are You Obtaining the Proper Enzymes?

January 2013

By Jeffrey Stout

Epidemic of Digestive Discomforts

If you find yourself reaching for drugs like Alka-Seltzer® or Pepto-Bismol® to relieve chronic digestive problems, you could have bigger health problems than you realize. Those OTC drugs might temporarily ease your symptoms, but they're doing absolutely nothing to target the underlying cause of the problem. If that underlying cause goes unchecked, you could be setting yourself up for a host of health issues that are much more devastating than gas or bloating such as food intolerance and malnutrition (in older adults).

Optimal Enzyme Formulation That Avoids Rapid Starch Breakdown
Optimal Enzyme Formulation That Avoids Rapid Starch Breakdown
Protein-Digesting Enzymes  
Protease complex Breaks down whole proteins and smaller peptides into single amino acids.
Trypsin Breaks down whole proteins into shorter oligopeptides that are further reduced to amino acids by other proteases.
Chymotrypsin Breaks down whole proteins and shorter oligopeptides.
Fat-Digesting Enzymes  
Lipase complex Breaks down complex fats into simple free fatty acids.
Fiber-Digesting Enzymes  
Cellulase Breaks down cellulose, a normally indigestible plant fiber.
Hemicellulase Breaks down hemicellulose, a structural (and indigestible) component of plant cell walls.
Phytase Breaks down phytic acid, a grain- and seed-derived sugar containing an indigestible form of phosphorus, releasing phosphorus for biological uses.
Beta-glucanase Breaks down otherwise indigestible fibers including cellulose.
Pectinase Breaks down pectin, the jelly-like matrix in plant cell walls, releasing juice and nutrients.
Xylanase Helps break down hemicellulose into xylose, a simple sugar that helps feed intestinal bacteria.

Example of an enzyme formulation that provides optimal digestion of proteins, fats, and cellulose (plant fiber). Note the absence of amylase, the enzyme category that breaks down dietary starches into blood sugar-boosting simple sugars.


Drugs like Prilosec® and Prevacid® suppress stomach acid secretion, but do so at the expense of poorer digestion. Even when stomach acid production is blocked, gastric contents and bile secreted by the liver can still reflux back into the esophagus and cause heartburn and irritation that lead to serious disease. Those who suffer esophageal reflux don't want undigested food remaining in the stomach any longer than it has to.

The proper enzyme formula facilitates more rapid digestion that can help resolve common digestive discomforts.

How Starch and Fiber Differ— And Why it Matters to You

Nature produces two major kinds of long-chain molecules (polysaccharides) out of simple sugars.41 These molecules are identical except for the way the simple sugars are linked together.

In complex carbohydrates (starches), the simple sugars are linked together with a bond labeled "alpha".41 Humans possess digestive enzymes (mostly amylases) capable of breaking this alpha bond and releasing large amounts of free glucose.42 That free glucose is responsible for causing the after-meal surge in blood sugar that's known to be so deleterious to health.

But polysaccharides with a so-called "beta" bond between the sugars are entirely unaffected by human digestive enzymes.41 Beta bonded polysaccharides (collectively called cellulose) are much stiffer than dietary carbohydrates; they make up most of the structural parts of plants such as leaves and stems, including most cruciferous vegetables.

Starches are broken down into sugars in the small intestine and then absorbed, but cellulose is not.41,42 When cellulose fibers reach your large intestine, they are subject to digestion by microorganisms living there. Those bacteria have enzymes capable of breaking down cellulose, and they do so vigorously; fermenting it to release smaller molecules and gas.43 And that produces the bloating, flatulence, and other uncomfortable symptoms that can follow a meal rich in indigestible plant fibers such as broccoli.

The trick when supplementing with digestive enzymes, then, is to include enzymes that partially break down indigestible cellulose, while avoiding enzymes that hasten digestion of dietary carbohydrates to release simple sugars that threaten your health. For those individuals for whom blood sugar spikes are a health risk factor, avoid supplements containing amylase or oligosaccharidases. Aim instead for supplements containing helpful fiber-digesting enzymes including cellulase, hemicellulase, phytase, beta-glucanase, pectinase, and xylanase. These enzymes can promote more comfortable digestion without exposing you to a dangerous after-meal glucose surge.


Gradual deterioration of digestive function doesn't have to be an inevitable part of aging. The right combination of enzymes can mitigate the embarrassing, uncomfortable, and occasionally dangerous consequences of incomplete food digestion.

Digestive enzyme supplements promote complete digestion of food in the stomach and upper small intestine. That prevents undigested food from reaching the colon, where normal bacteria ferment it to produce gas, liquid, and the unpleasant symptoms of a poorly-regulated digestion.

The main problem with most digestive enzyme supplements is that they facilitate the breakdown of starches into simple sugars that are rapidly absorbed as glucose into the bloodstream. Because of its widespread deleterious effects on health, excess glucose is a leading cause of disability and death in modern societies.10-18

Even if one consumed no carbohydrates, the body would still have plenty of glucose because the liver efficiently converts protein (and fatty acids) into glucose through a process known as gluconeogenesis.

It is far more logical to take a digestive enzyme supplement loaded with protease and lipase, and specialized cellulases. That way, one facilitates digestion of vital amino acids, plants, and fat-soluble nutrients without creating dangerous glucose spikes.

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Health Advisor at 1-866-864-3027.


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