Why Enzymes Are an Important Part of Your Digestive System (2023)

Digestive enzymes are substances that help you digest your food. They are secreted (released) by the salivary glands and cells lining the stomach, pancreas, and small intestine.

Digestive enzymes do this by splitting the large, complex molecules that make up proteins, carbohydrates, and fats into smaller ones. This allows thenutrients from these foods to be easily absorbed into your blood and carried through your body.

There are several digestive enzymes, including amylase, maltase, lactase, lipase, sucrase, and proteases.

Some conditions can result in digestive enzyme deficiencies, such as lactose intolerance or exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. In that case, supplementation with foods, over-the-counter supplements, or prescription digestive enzyme supplements may be necessary.

Keep reading to learn about different types of digestive enzymes and how they work.

Why Enzymes Are an Important Part of Your Digestive System (1)

What Are Digestive Enzymes?

Digestive enzymes are released when we:

  • Anticipate eating
  • Smell and taste food
  • Go through the digestive process

Some foods require certain digestive enzymes to break down the specific nutrients they contain.

A variety of health conditions, especially those that affect the pancreas, can lead to deficiencies in digestive enzymes. This is because the pancreas secretes several key enzymes.

Often these deficiencies can be fixed by changing your diet. You can avoid certain foods or eat foods containing naturally occurring digestive enzymes. You can also take prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) enzyme supplements.

Types of Digestive Enzymes

Each of the many different digestive enzymes targets a specific nutrient and splits it up into a form that can eventually be absorbed.

The most important digestive enzymes are:

  • Amylase
  • Maltase
  • Lactase
  • Lipase
  • Proteases
  • Sucrase

Amylase

Amylase is important for digesting carbohydrates. It breaks down starches into sugars.

Amylase is secreted by both the salivary glands and the pancreas. The measurement of amylase levels in the blood is sometimes used as an aid in diagnosing various pancreas or other digestive tract diseases.

High levels of amylase in the blood may mean you have:

  • A blocked or injured duct of the pancreas
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Acute pancreatitis, which is a sudden inflammation of the pancreas

Low levels of amylase may mean you have chronic pancreatitis (ongoing inflammation of the pancreas) or liver disease.

Maltase

The small intestine releases maltase, which is responsible for breaking down maltose (malt sugar) into glucose (simple sugar). The body uses glucose for energy.

During digestion, starch is partially transformed into maltose by amylases. The maltase enzyme then changes maltose into glucose. This sugar is then either used immediately by the body or stored in the liver as glycogen for future use.

Lactase

Lactase (also calledlactase-phlorizin hydrolase) is an enzyme that breaks down lactose, a sugar found in dairy products. It turns lactose into the simple sugars glucose and galactose.

Lactase is produced by cells known as enterocytes that line the intestinal tract. Lactose that is not absorbed is fermented by bacteria in the gut. This can cause you to have gas and an upset stomach.

Lipase

Lipase is responsible for the breakdown of fats into fatty acids and glycerol (simple sugar alcohol). It's produced in small amounts by your mouth and stomach, and in larger amounts by your pancreas.

Proteases

Also called peptidases, proteolytic enzymes, or proteinases, these digestive enzymes break down proteins into amino acids. They also play a role in numerous body processes, including:

(Video) Biology- What are the enzymes of the digestive system?

  • Cell division
  • Blood clotting
  • Immune function

Proteases are produced in the stomach and pancreas. The main ones are:

  • Pepsin: Pepsin is secreted by the stomach to break down proteins into peptides, or smaller groupings of amino acids. Those amino acids are then either absorbed or broken down further in the small intestine.
  • Trypsin: Trypsin forms when an enzyme secreted by the pancreas is activated by an enzyme in the small intestine. Trypsin then activates additional pancreatic enzymes, such as carboxypeptidase and chymotrypsin, to help break down peptides.
  • Chymotrypsin: This enzyme breaks down peptides into free amino acids that can be absorbed by the intestinal wall.
  • Carboxypeptidase A: Secreted by the pancreas, it splits peptides into individual amino acids.
  • Carboxypeptidase B: Secreted by the pancreas, it breaks down basic amino acids.

What Are Proteolytic Enzymes?

Sucrase

Sucrase is secreted by the small intestine, where it breaks down sucrose (the sugar in table sugar) into fructose and glucose. These are simpler sugars that the body can absorb.

Sucrase is found along the intestinal villi. These are tiny hair-like structures that line the intestine and absorb nutrients into the bloodstream.

Digestive Enzyme Deficiencies

There are a variety of health conditions that can interfere with the secretion of enough digestive enzymes to fully digest foods. Some are inherited genetic conditions while others develop over time.

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance occurs when you aren't able to digest lactose because of insufficient production of lactase by the small intestine. When you consume dairy products, you may experience:

  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Gas

There are several forms of lactose intolerance.

Congenital Lactase Deficiency

Congenital lactase deficiency (also called congenital alactasia) is a rare inherited form of lactose intolerance. It happens when newborns are unable to break down lactose in breast milk or formula. They get severe diarrhea if they aren't given a lactose-free alternative.

Congenital lactase deficiency is caused by mutations in the LCT gene that provides instructions for making the lactase enzyme.

Lactase Non-Persistence

Lactase non-persistence is a common type of lactose intolerance that some people develop as adults. It affects around 65% of people, and it's caused by decreased expression (activity) of the LCT gene. Symptoms typically begin 30 minutes to two hours after eating or drinking dairy.

Most people with lactase non-persistence keep some level of lactase activity and can continue to include a small amount of lactose in their diets. This may be in the form of cheese or yogurt since both tend to be tolerated better than fresh milk.

Secondary Lactose Intolerance

Secondary lactose intolerance develops when lactase production is reduced because of diseases that can damage the small intestine. These diseases include celiac disease or Crohn's disease as well as other illnesses or injuries that affect the intestinal wall.

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency

The pancreas produces the key digestive enzymes amylase, protease, and lipase. People with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) have a deficiency of these enzymes. As a result, they are unable to digest food properly, especially fats.

The health conditions that affect the pancreas and are associated with EPI are:

  • Chronic pancreatitis: An inflammation of the pancreas that can permanently damage the organ over time
  • Cystic fibrosis: An inherited genetic condition that causes severe damage to the lungs and digestive system, including the pancreas
  • Pancreatic cancer

Foods High in Digestive Enzymes

A variety of foods, especially tropical fruits and fermented vegetables, are naturally high in digestive enzymes that might speed up the digestion of certain nutrients.

It's best to eat them raw since heat can lessen or destroy these plant enzymes.

Foods with Digestive Enzymes
FoodEnzymesBenefit
PineappleProteases (bromelain)Helps digest proteins and has additional anti-inflammatory effects
PapayaProteases (papain)Helps digest proteins and is a popular meat tenderizer
KiwiProteases (actinidain)In addition to its digestive enzymes, the fruit is high in fiber to support digestive tract function
MangoAmylasesHelps break down carbohydrates from starches into simple sugars andincreases as the fruit ripens
BananaAmylases,glucosidasesLike amylases, glucosidases also break down complex carbohydrates
Raw honeyAmylases, Diastases, invertases, proteasesThe amylases and diastases help to break down starches, invertases break down sugars, and proteases break down protein
AvocadoLipasesHelps digest and metabolize fat
KefirLipases, lactase, proteasesThe lactase in kefir helps to digest the fermented milk and may be tolerated by some people with lactose intolerance
Sauerkraut, kimchiLipases, proteasesFermented foods develop enzymes during the fermentation process as well as probiotics, or beneficial bacteria, to further support digestive health
MisoLactases, lipases, proteases, amylasesThis fermented soy paste contains a potent combination of enzymes that help break down lactose in dairy, fats, proteins, and carbohydrates
GingerProtease (zingibain)In addition to its enzymes that can help break down proteins, ginger may also help ease nausea

Digestive juices require hydration, so make sure that you drink water throughout the day.

Digestive Enzyme Supplements

People who don't have sufficient amounts of digestive enzymes or who are looking to support healthy digestion should consider supplementing their diet with digestive enzymes.

They can do this by eating healthy foods that contain naturally occurring digestive enzymes. But they can also take nutritional supplements under a healthcare provider's guidance.

Digestive enzyme supplements can come in:

(Video) Digestive enzymes | Physiology | Biology | FuseSchool

  • Pills
  • Powders
  • Liquids sourced from animals, plants, or microbes

There are prescription supplements regulated by the FDA as well as over-the-counter supplements.

Prescription Supplements

Prescription enzyme supplements are recommended for conditions that affect the functioning of the pancreas, such as chronic pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer.

Brands of prescription pancreatic enzyme supplements (pancrelipase) include:

  • Creon
  • Pancreaze
  • Zenpep
  • Ultresa
  • Viokace
  • Pertzye

Over-the-Counter Supplements

Over-the-counter enzyme supplements are not regulated by the FDA. There haven't been enough high-quality studies on them, so it's hard to know how effective they are.

The following are some of the supplemental enzymes that don't require a prescription:

  • Lactase supplements may help people who are lactose intolerant to digest dairy products and are available as tablets or drops.
  • Bromelain is a powerful protease from the fruit or stem of pineapples that comes in capsule, tablet, or powder form and may help with the digestion of protein.
  • Papain from papaya may help with digesting proteins, and the powder form can be used as a meat tenderizer.

As with any supplement, check with your healthcare provider before taking an over-the-counter digestive enzyme to make sure it's safe for you.

Summary

Digestive enzymes are substances that help you digest your food. They're secreted by the salivary glands and cells lining the stomach, pancreas, and small intestine.

Sometimes people have a digestive enzyme deficiency. These deficiencies are connected to various health conditions. Many of these health conditions are related to the pancreas.

You can treat a digestive enzyme deficiency by changing your diet and/or taking a prescription or over-the-counter enzyme supplement. Before you decide to take an enzyme supplement, get your healthcare provider's advice. They can help you determine if it's safe for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Who should take digestive enzyme supplements?

    If you have pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer, cystic fibrosis, or another disease of the pancreas, you may need to take prescription digestive enzymes. Those who are lactose intolerant can takeOTC supplements.

    Researchers are exploring whether digestive enzymes may also help those with celiac disease.

    Learn More:Digestive Enzymes and Celiac Disease

  • When should I take digestive enzymes?

    It depends on why you’re taking them.

    (Video) GCSE Biology - Digestive Enzymes #17

    For example, prescription supplements for cystic fibrosis need to be taken at every meal and snack, but the dosage and timing may vary depending on what you’re eating or your age.

    Follow your healthcare provider's prescription or the OTC instructions.

    Learn More:An Overview of Cystic Fibrosis Diet and Supplements

11 Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Peyrot des Gachons C, Breslin PAS. Salivary amylase: digestion and metabolic syndrome. Curr Diab Rep. 2016;16(10):102. doi:10.1007/s11892-016-0794-7

  2. Rompianesi G, Hann A, Komolafe O, Pereira SP, Davidson BR, Gurusamy KS. Serum amylase and lipase and urinary trypsinogen and amylase for diagnosis of acute pancreatitis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017;4:CD012010. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD012010.pub2

  3. Genetics Home Reference. Lactose intolerance.

  4. Mótyán JA, Tóth F, Tőzsér J. Research applications of proteolytic enzymes in molecular biology. Biomolecules. 2013;3(4):923-42. doi:10.3390/biom3040923

  5. Genetics Home Reference. LCT gene.

  6. The National Pancreas Foundation. Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI).

  7. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Updated questions and answers for healthcare professionals and the public: Use an approved pancreatic enzyme product (PEP).

  8. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Treatment for lactose intolerance.

  9. Pavan R, Jain S, Shraddha, Kumar A. Properties and therapeutic application of bromelain: a review. Biotechnol Res Int. 2012;2012:976203. doi:10.1155/2012/976203

  10. Gianluca I, Silvia P, Valentina G, Antonio G, Giovanni C. Digestive enzyme supplementation in gastrointestinal diseases. Current Drug Metabolism. 2016;17(2):187-193. doi:10.2174%2F138920021702160114150137

    (Video) Digestive Enzymes and Why They Are Important

  11. Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Enzymes.

Why Enzymes Are an Important Part of Your Digestive System (2)

By Barbara Bolen, PhD
Barbara Bolen, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and health coach. She has written multiple books focused on living with irritable bowel syndrome.

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FAQs

Why are enzymes important to the digestive system? ›

What are digestive enzymes, and what do they do? Naturally occurring digestive enzymes are proteins that your body makes to break down food and aid digestion. Digestion is the process of using the nutrients found in food to give your body energy, help it grow and perform vital functions.

What is the most important enzyme in digestion? ›

Most of the chemical reactions occur in the stomach and small intestine. In the stomach, pepsin is the main digestive enzyme attacking proteins. Several other pancreatic enzymes go to work when protein molecules reach the small intestine.

What are the three importance of enzymes? ›

Enzymes help speed up chemical reactions in the human body. They are essential for respiration, digesting food, muscle and nerve function, among thousands of other roles. Each cell in the human body contains thousands of enzymes.

What are digestive enzymes 7? ›

Digestive enzymes are the enzymes that break down polymeric macromolecules into smaller building blocks to facilitate their absorption by the body. Our digestive system does not absorb the food we eat, it absorbs nutrients in the form of simpler molecules.

How do enzymes work? ›

Enzymes perform the critical task of lowering a reaction's activation energy—that is, the amount of energy that must be put in for the reaction to begin. Enzymes work by binding to reactant molecules and holding them in such a way that the chemical bond-breaking and bond-forming processes take place more readily.

What are the most important enzymes? ›

In the process of digestion, enzymes become involved in the very first step. A type of amylase is in the saliva and begins breaking down starches in food. Protease are digestive enzymes that help break down protein in your stomach and small intestine. Lipase are the enzymes that break down fats in the digestive system.

Do I need digestive enzymes? ›

Digestive enzymes are essential to nutrition and overall good health. They help your body absorb nutrients from the foods you eat. Without them, certain foods can lead to uncomfortable symptoms, food intolerances, or nutritional deficiencies.

What is the function of digestive enzymes Brainly? ›

Answer: Digestive enzymes such as amylase, lipase, pepsin, trypsin, etc. helps to break the complex food particles into simple ones so that these simple particles can be easily absorbed by the blood and thus transported to all the cells of the body.

What are the 5 functions of enzymes? ›

Enzymes catalyze all kinds of chemical reactions that are involved in growth, blood coagulation, healing, diseases, breathing, digestion, reproduction, and many other biological activities.

What are important characteristics of enzymes? ›

Characteristics of an Enzyme :
  • Speed up chemical reactions.
  • They are required in minute amounts.
  • They are highly specific in their action.
  • They are affected by temperature.
  • They are affected by pH.
  • Some catalyze reversible reactions.
  • Some require coenzymes.
  • They are inhibited by inhibitors.

What is the function of enzymes in a living system? ›

-Enzymes are protein molecules present in the living system to alter the biochemical reaction. They regulate the rate at which reactions proceed without even being altered in the reaction. -Since enzymes act as catalysts, their main function in the living system is to catalyze the biochemical reaction.

How does the body make enzymes? ›

Our body makes our metabolic enzymes from the complete amino acid food we ingest. Complete amino acids are only found in animal products. It takes a combination of many plant products to make a complete amino source, and these sources are usually processed or heated, destroying the enzymes.

What is the function of digestive enzymes Class 10 short answer? ›

Digestive enzymes such as amylase, lipase, pepsin, trypsin, etc., help in the chemical digestion of food by breaking down complex food particles into simpler ones. These simple molecules can be easily absorbed by the blood and is thus transported to all the cells in the body.

What are the 3 types of enzymes? ›

Three key types of enzymes in different parts of our digestive system help break down the food to provide the energy our body needs to grow and repair. They are called carbohydrase enzymes, protease enzymes and lipase enzymes.

What do you mean by enzymes? ›

An enzyme is a biological catalyst and is almost always a protein. It speeds up the rate of a specific chemical reaction in the cell. The enzyme is not destroyed during the reaction and is used over and over.

What would happen without enzymes? ›

Without enzymes, life wouldn't be possible. Nearly every process in cells – DNA replication, protein synthesis, metabolism of food into energy and even steroid production – is made possible by an enzyme interacting specifically with its target substrate to transform it into something useful.

What is enzyme example? ›

The enzyme pepsin, for example, is a critical component of gastric juices, helping to break down food particles in the stomach. Likewise, the enzyme amylase, which is present in saliva, converts starch into sugar, helping to initiate digestion. In medicine, the enzyme thrombin is used to promote wound healing.

How many digestive enzymes are there? ›

There are three main types of digestive enzymes: Proteases: Break down protein into small peptides and amino acids. Lipases: Break down fat into three fatty acids plus a glycerol molecule. Amylases: Break down carbs like starch into simple sugars.

Where are digestive enzymes produced? ›

The pancreas produces the key digestive enzymes amylase, protease, and lipase. People with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) have a deficiency of these enzymes. As a result, they are unable to digest food properly, especially fats.

How do you take enzymes? ›

Enzymes Should be Taken with Food

It's crucial to take enzymes as directed. That means, in most cases, you should take digestive enzyme supplements along with food. In many instances, they should be taken in combination with specific foods in order to properly perform their intended function.

What are food enzymes? ›

Food enzymes are enzymes that are safe for consumption and are used by the food industry during food production to help improve the safety and quality of foods and the efficiency of the process.

What enzymes help with gas? ›

The other supplement is an enzyme called alpha-galactosidase, commonly marketed as Beano. This enzyme helps reduce gas and bloating caused by eating beans and cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli and cabbage). It does this by breaking down some of the oligosaccharides found in these foods.

What is the function of digestive enzymes for Class 10 Brainly? ›

Digestive enzymes helps in digesting complex food materials into simpler molecules for absorption by the body.

What are the names of digestive enzymes? ›

Examples of digestive enzymes include amylase, gelatinase, lactase, lipase, maltase, peptidase, and protease.

How does the digestive system works? ›

As food passes through the GI tract, it mixes with digestive juices, causing large molecules of food to break down into smaller molecules. The body then absorbs these smaller molecules through the walls of the small intestine into the bloodstream, which delivers them to the rest of the body.

What are types of enzymes? ›

Enzymes are classified into six categories according to the type of reaction catalyzed: Oxidoreductases, transferases, hydrolases, lyases, ligases, and isomerases. Structurally, the vast majority of enzymes are proteins.

Why are enzymes specific in nature short answers? ›

Enzymes are specific because different enzymes have differently shaped active sites. The shape of the active site of an enzyme is complementary to the shape of its specific substrate . This means they are the correct shapes to fit together. Temperature has an effect on enzyme activity.

How are enzymes named? ›

Enzymes are commonly named by adding a suffix “-ase” to the root name of the substrate molecule they will naturally be acting upon. For example, Lipase catalyzes the hydrolysis of lipids, they break down the molecule with the help of water; Sucrase catalyzes the hydrolysis of sucrose into glucose and fructose.

Which functions are performed by enzymes secreted in human digestive system? ›

Solution : (i) Enzymes secreted in the digestive system perform the function of digestion . <br> (ii) Enzyme Protease digests proteins . Enzyme amylase digests carbohydrates . Enzyme Lipase digests fats.

What would happen if we had no digestive enzymes? ›

Without them, your body can't break foods down so that nutrients can be fully absorbed. A lack of digestive enzymes can lead to a variety of gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms. It can also leave you malnourished, even if you eat a nutritious diet.

What is the function of enzymes within living systems? ›

-Enzymes are protein molecules present in the living system to alter the biochemical reaction. They regulate the rate at which reactions proceed without even being altered in the reaction. -Since enzymes act as catalysts, their main function in the living system is to catalyze the biochemical reaction.

What is an enzyme BBC Bitesize? ›

Enzymes are proteins that function as biological catalysts . So, they are molecules that speed up a chemical reaction without being changed by the reaction.

What are enzymes simple definition? ›

An enzyme is a biological catalyst and is almost always a protein. It speeds up the rate of a specific chemical reaction in the cell. The enzyme is not destroyed during the reaction and is used over and over.

How many enzymes are in the human body? ›

Enzymes are protein chemicals, which carry a vital energy factor needed for every chemical action, and reaction that occurs in our body. There are approximately 1300 different enzymes found in the human cell.

How do you take digestive enzymes? ›

Enzymes Should be Taken with Food

It's crucial to take enzymes as directed. That means, in most cases, you should take digestive enzyme supplements along with food. In many instances, they should be taken in combination with specific foods in order to properly perform their intended function.

When should you take digestive enzymes? ›

Digestion starts when we look at/think about food. If we need to use digestive enzymes, those enzymes need to be ready to go just before we eat. All digestive enzymes should be taken 15-20 minutes before you eat.

Where do enzymes work in the body? ›

Protease emerges from the stomach, pancreas, and small intestine. A most biochemical reaction takes place in the small intestine and the stomach. Pepsin is the primary type of enzyme that destroys proteins in the intestine. As protein particles enter the small intestine, the digestive function of the enzyme starts.

What are the 5 functions of enzymes? ›

Enzymes catalyze all kinds of chemical reactions that are involved in growth, blood coagulation, healing, diseases, breathing, digestion, reproduction, and many other biological activities.

How is an enzyme made? ›

Enzymes are made from amino acids, and they are proteins. When an enzyme is formed, it is made by stringing together between 100 and 1,000 amino acids in a very specific and unique order. The chain of amino acids then folds into a unique shape.

Why does pH affect enzyme activity GCSE? ›

Changing the pH will affect the charges on the amino acid molecules. Amino acids that attracted each other may no longer be. Again, the shape of the enzyme, along with its active site, will change. Extremes of pH also denature enzymes.

How do enzymes work a level biology? ›

Enzymes are biological catalysts - they speed up the rate of chemical reactions happening inside our body. They work by reducing the activation energy of a reaction. Activation energy is defined as the minimum amount of energy needed for a reaction to happen.

What is an enzyme in food? ›

Enzymes are protein molecules that are present in all living things. They speed up and target chemical reactions, in many cases increasing the rate of reaction millions of times. For example, they aid digestion, metabolise and eliminate waste in humans and animals, and play a crucial role in muscle contraction.

How are enzymes named? ›

Enzymes are commonly named by adding a suffix “-ase” to the root name of the substrate molecule they will naturally be acting upon. For example, Lipase catalyzes the hydrolysis of lipids, they break down the molecule with the help of water; Sucrase catalyzes the hydrolysis of sucrose into glucose and fructose.

Why are enzymes proteins? ›

Enzymes are proteins comprised of amino acids linked together in one or more polypeptide chains. This sequence of amino acids in a polypeptide chain is called the primary structure. This, in turn, determines the three-dimensional structure of the enzyme, including the shape of the active site.

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