Enzymes are invaluable: they help sustain life, and they catalyze (help bring about) reactions in your body so that things work smoothly and efficiently. Why do you need enzymes? Well, besides supporting many metabolic reactions, they help your body break down and digest food so it can be more easily absorbed. If you didn’t have enzymes, the last meal you ate would remain in your stomach for a very long time – and that could get pretty uncomfortable!
Your mouth releases enzymes when you begin eating, and when food enters your stomach it starts to work on releasing both enzymes and stomach acid to aid digestion. After food leaves your stomach, your pancreas is able to brilliantly release high amounts of enzymes to further digest food in your small intestine. Enzymes essentially break down your food into compounds small enough for efficient absorption.
Healthy digestion requires that you’re calm and relaxed to properly break down your food. If you’re going through acute or chronic stress, getting some digestive support can definitely help. People without enough digestive power can experience gas, bloating, or a sensation that food is just sitting in their stomach.
Digestive enzymes usually come in capsule or tablet form, and contain compounds that end with “ase,” as in lipase (for supporting healthy fat digestion), or protease (which contributes to healthy protein digestion). An excellent enzyme formula is Solgar Comfort Zone Digestive Complex. It contains 11 high-activity enzymes and can help your digestion when you know you’ll need support.
Alternatively, you can help prime your digestive juices with warm lemon water before meals. Just squeeze the juice of a medium-sized lemon wedge into 1 cup of warm water, and drink.
You can also use herbal bitters to boost your digestive fire. Nature’s Works Swedish Bitters is a wonderful product in this category. It’s a traditional European formula of herbal extracts that support healthy digestion and regularity.* Add two teaspoons to one cup of water, or fennel or chamomile tea, and sip before or during meals. (Note: If taken in excess, however, this product may cause loose stools. Also, it’s recommended that you avoid taking this formula if you’re pregnant, nursing, or experiencing diarrhea.)
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
Laurie Steelsmith, ND, LAc, is a naturopathic physician and licensed acupuncturist who specializes in women’s health. She is the co-author of Great Sex, Naturally: Every Woman’s Guide to Enhancing Her Sexuality Through the Secrets of Natural Medicine and co-author of Natural Choices for Women’s Health: How the Secrets of Natural and Chinese Medicine Can Create a Lifetime of Wellness.