Commonly Asked Questions About Digestion

I have heard a lot about enzymes and digestion–how are they related?

The digestive process is dependent on the presence of enzymes, which allow our bodies to absorb the food we eat and use it for fuel. Enzymes are present in the digestive juices, where they help break down food into simpler components the body can use for energy.

Which enzymes aid in the digestion process?

The three main enzymes involved in digestion are amylase, protease and lipase–though there are many more enzymes involved in digestion. Digestion actually begins in the mouth where the amylase in saliva starts to break down starches and carbohydrates.

Protein digestion begins in the stomach where the acidic environment activates the protease enzymes to begin breaking down protein. Most proteins are ultimately broken down into amino acids, the building blocks of life.

Fat digestion accelerates in the second part of the small intestine with the help of the lipase enzymes, which break down fat into essential fatty acids. The lipase enzymes help in the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins: A, D, E and K.

Other enzymes, such as sucrase, lactase and maltase, play the crucial role of breaking down simple sugars that are essential for energy production.

Is it true that bacteria are good for your digestive health?

Some bacteria are very important for your health– these beneficial bacteria are known as probiotics. Two important probiotics are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. The health benefits of both of these probiotic bacteria are well studied and supplements are available which can help increase the presence of these beneficial bacteria in your intestines.

How often should I take probiotics?

The key with probiotics is to ensure that they get to the intestines where they can help support a healthy digestive tract. Often, probiotics do not survive the acidic environment in the stomach, so it is important to find a supplement that offers a patented delivery system designed specifically to deliver the bacteria to the intestine. Since probiotics do not permanently colonize in our bodies, it is important to regularly replenish the probiotics with food or supplements.

I know that fiber is important–what exactly does it do?

Fiber helps promote and maintain regularity and in addition is important for immune systems as well as cardiovascular health. Unfortunately, most Americans get only about half of the fiber they need each day. If you are one of those who fall short, consider supplementing your diet with additional fiber. You don’t need to suffer through the gritty fiber drink mixes that your grandmother used to use. There are more and more fiber powders that are palatable these days or if necessary, look for chewable tablets that provide supplemental fiber and taste a lot better.

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