The process of digestion
Digestion is a vital process in the body, during which food that is eaten is broken down into a simple form that can be absorbed by the body.
The mouth, oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum and anus are the organs that make up our digestive system.
The process of digestion starts in the mouth with the chewing of food, continues in the stomach and small intestine where the food is broken down by the digestive juices and enzymes and finally gets completed in the large intestine. The digestive tract comprises these digestive organs that take in food, digest it to extract essential nutrients and energy and finally expel the remaining waste.
What are digestive enzymes?
Digestive enzymes are complex proteins that stimulate chemical changes in other substances. They are secreted by different glands in the body, including the salivary glands, the stomach and pancreas glands and the glands in the small intestines.
These enzymes also have specific sites of action, including the oral cavity, the stomach, the duodenum and the jejunum. They work optimally at a specific temperature and pH in the body.
They are used by the body to break food down into nutrients, which are then digested. The human body produces around 22 different digestive enzymes, each of which acts on a different type of food. Fruit, vegetables, meat and other natural foods also often contain enzymes that assist in their own digestion.
Without digestive enzymes, we could not exist. Our body’s reactions would be too slow for life to be possible, because they are involved in almost every biological process.
How do digestive enzymes work?
The human body makes more than 3,000 kinds of enzymes, all of which speed up chemical reactions and save energy. Digestive enzymes, which are only a few of the thousands of known enzymes, break down the foods we eat into basic building blocks that our body can then absorb and reassemble to build cells, tissues, organs, glands and body systems.
These enzymes are produced by the body to help break down food into nutrients and waste. The nutrient molecules must be digested into molecules that are small enough to be absorbed through the lining of the small intestines. When we don’t produce enough digestive enzymes to complete this process efficiently – wind, bloating and more serious digestive and other health issues may occur.
As mentioned above, digestive enzymes come from 2 sources: internal and external. Internally, the digestive system secretes the enzymes found in saliva, the stomach, pancreas and intestines. Externally, raw food is the primary source.
Food digestive enzymes are found in raw foods. Unprocessed whole foods contain most of the enzymes needed for digesting that particular food. This is one reason why it’s important to include many raw foods in our diets. It relieves the stress on the body, having to produce all the digestive system enzymes needed for continuous food digestion (particularly where the food items are hard to process, such as foods high in saturated fat, dairy, red meat etc). Chewing raw food releases these enzymes and digestion begins. Our own enzymes assist in this process.
What are some of the benefits of digestive enzymes?
Caffeine, alcohol, illness, pregnancy, stress, severe weather and exercise all take their toll on our enzyme reserves. Our bodies also produce less as we age. But the main reason we don’t digest food well, is poor diet.
Our diets don’t contain as much raw food as they once did, and modern food processing techniques and cooking destroy nearly 100% of the enzymes naturally present in food. Even raw food doesn’t contain as many enzymes as it once did due to environmental factors, depleted soil, and preservation techniques.
The body tries to compensate by producing more internal digestive enzymes to make up for the lack of external plant enzymes. Enzyme-deficient food puts a burden on the digestive system that it isn’t always able to handle. Incomplete digestion can lead to poor nutrient absorption, fatigue, digestive upset, food allergies and other health conditions and digestive complaints. Partially digested food particles escaping from the gut can cause an immune response (such as Leaky Gut Syndrome), affecting the immune system. The body may also “steal” enzymes from the immune system, compromising it even further.
As a result, many health conscious individuals choose to support their daily diet and digestion with plant-derived digestive enzyme supplements.
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