The Role of Pancreatic Enzymes and Their Lack
Many people think that digestion occurs exclusively in the stomach, but this is not the case. Many organs are involved in digestion, and this process begins at the moment of chewing and ends in the intestines. Throughout the path, various enzymes act on the food bolus, due to which the food is broken down into individual components and absorbed. What are these substances, where do they come from and why are enzymes so important for health?
What are pancreatic enzymes and what are they needed for?
Pancreatic enzymes are protein structures that contain various amino acids. But if you do not delve into the chemical composition, pancreatic enzymes are substances involved in the digestion of food. They “disassemble” any food into basic elements and help us absorb nutrients.
The human body produces a huge amount of pancreatic enzymes – dozens of different types. Every enzyme does a certain part of the job. Some enzymes can only break down milk sugar – lactose, others are responsible for the breakdown of protein foods, others deal with fats, the fourth – exclusively with gelatin, and so on.
Food processing begins in the mouth when the food is chewed. The salivary glands secrete an enzyme called alpha-amylase. It is responsible for breaking down starch and converting it into sugar. Anyone can trace how alpha-amylase works: try chewing a small piece of bread for two to three minutes and you will feel a sweet taste in your mouth. Bread contains a lot of starch, which, under the influence of an enzyme, breaks down into easily digestible sugars.
After being processed with saliva, food enters the stomach. Then enzymes start doing their job.
Most people think that everything ends in the stomach, but no – everything is just beginning here. Food processed only with gastric enzymes cannot be fully digested. Therefore, it is sent to the duodenum and there is treated with enzymes produced by the pancreas. There are a lot of them, no less than 20. In the intestines, food components finally begin to be absorbed and assimilated by the body.
The process continues in the small intestine, where individual enzymes are present, which complete the “disassembly” of compounds. At this stage, most of the nutrients are absorbed, and the final processing of food takes place in the large intestine, where the process is completed by enzymes produced by our intestinal microflora.
A huge number of enzymes work on food processing, and failure at any of the stages leads to various digestive problems: diarrhea or constipation, bloating, heartburn, belching. Normally, the entire system works like a clock, however, sometimes enzymes cannot do their job as expected.
Reasons for lack of pancreatic enzymes
Our body produces a limited amount of enzymes, and sometimes they are not enough to fully digest food.
Lack of pancreatic enzymes, as a rule, is caused by functional or organic diseases of the digestive system. Inflammatory diseases of the pancreas (in particular, pancreatitis), inflammation of the intestines, gastritis, pathologies of the liver and bile ducts, pathologies of the intestinal mucosa, characteristic of some autoimmune diseases, lead to enzyme deficiency.
But much more often the symptoms of a lack of enzymes appear not because the body produces too little of these substances, but because the amount of food is too large. Yes, overeating and an unbalanced diet are the most common causes of digestive problems.
The average stomach volume is about a liter, and if you eat more, it is difficult for the digestive system to produce enough enzymes to absorb that amount of food. The situation can be aggravated by too fatty and spicy food, as well as alcohol.
Poor digestion of food threatens not only seething in the stomach, heartburn and pain. The consequences can be more severe. Undigested food fragments are an excellent breeding ground for pathogenic microflora, which normally does not pose a danger. But if there are too many of these conventionally harmless bacteria, they can be harmful to health. For example, sugar is an excellent food for the fungus that causes candidiasis. Foods that are not completely broken down are also harmful to internal organs. In particular, unbroken fats irritate the intestinal wall and cause inflammation.
How many enzymes are needed for digestion and how can you normalize fermentation?
In order to determine the amount of enzymes, you need to undergo a medical examination. But you may notice signs that the enzymes are lacking. The lack of these substances is manifested by such unpleasant symptoms as:
- heartburn after eating;
- a feeling of heaviness in the upper abdomen;
- bloating and flatulence;
- unpleasant taste in the mouth;
- nausea, especially after fatty foods;
- copious loose stools.
These symptoms are unpleasant, but long-term enzyme deficiency causes more significant troubles. Since food is poorly absorbed when there is a lack of enzymes, the body does not receive essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals. This situation leads to muscle weakness and rapid fatigue due to a lack of proteins, fats and carbohydrates, as well as due to anemia since iron from food does not enter the bloodstream. In addition, it provokes nervous exhaustion, worsens the condition of hair, skin and nails, reduces visual acuity, causes problems in the genital area and many other painful conditions caused by vitamin deficiency.
If you are familiar with the symptoms listed above, you should urgently see a doctor. As we have already said, a lack of enzymes for digestion can be a consequence of serious diseases and pathological conditions. If the examination does not reveal any diseases, the doctor will recommend changing the diet. Fortunately, in healthy people, revising the menu can almost completely remove the symptoms of a lack of pancreatic enzymes and improve the functioning of the gastrointestinal tract. The main principle of diet therapy with a lack of enzymes for digestion is a moderate fractional food. It is recommended to eat every three to four hours. It is also recommended to exclude very fatty foods – bacon and lard, deep-fried food. You will also have to give up alcohol and excessive consumption of sweets and pastries. But cooked fruits and vegetables help digestion, so you should eat more of them.
What can be done to improve digestion
One of the main directions in the treatment of patients with enzyme deficiency is enzyme replacement therapy.
Indications for enzyme therapy can be divided into several groups, which include diseases of the pancreas, diseases of the small and large intestines, stomach pathologies, dyspepsia, diseases of the biliary tract and liver, disorders of gastrointestinal tract motility, overeating. The selection of enzyme preparations for different groups is somewhat different, but at the same time, all of them must be well tolerated by the patient, a few side effects, resistance to the aggressive effects of gastric juice and a long shelf life.
To date, the following groups of enzyme preparations have been identified:
- Extracts of the gastric mucosa with the active ingredient pepsin. This group is mainly aimed at correcting gastrogenic enzyme deficiency;
- Preparations with pancreatin, which contains proteases, amylase and lipase. They are used to treat pancreatic enzyme deficiency. Such drugs perfectly help the pancreas to digest any food, maintain the required level of enzymes and provide the organ with peace since a high concentration of enzymes in the lumen of the duodenum reduces the activity of the pancreas;
- Plant enzymes represented by papain, fungal amylase, protease, lipase and other enzymes;
- Combined preparations based on pancreatin, hemicellulase and bile components. They are taken to stimulate the pancreas, bowel and gallbladder motility;
- Combined enzymes containing pancreatin in combination with plant enzymes, vitamins;
Enzyme therapy should primarily be aimed at supporting the body’s ability to digest food. Although it cannot finally restore the functions of diseased organs, it is quite capable of taking over most of their work. With the help of enzyme therapy, the human body can fully receive nutrients from the food consumed for many years.
Enzyme therapy is also recommended in cases where the diet has been violated. Often, unpleasant symptoms (dyspepsia, flatulence, diarrhea) after abuse of too fatty or spicy foods may indicate enzyme deficiency. A correctly prescribed enzyme preparation is able to quickly and practically completely eliminate all the consequences of food disorders.
You should remember that although enzyme therapy may be indicated, it is still necessary to start taking medication only after consulting your doctor. The fact is that in some cases, enzyme therapy is contraindicated until the end of the acute period of the disease. In addition, the doctor will prescribe a drug based on the individual characteristics of the patient’s body, the course of the underlying disease and the state of health at the moment.
Tags: enzymes, medicine, pancreatic