More people have come to realize that overall health is directly tied to digestive health. Information is more accessible than ever to help you identify digestive issues, possible causes and potential support systems for your discomfort. But there’s a downside to this sudden upswing. Unfamiliar terms can be confusing, and some of the information shared online or from peers and family members can be misleading.
Dr. Murray, a naturopathic doctor and Chief Science Officer of Enzymedica, has narrowed it down to three common misconceptions about digestive health. Here are the facts you should know:
Myth: probiotics and enzymes are one in the same
Probiotics are live microorganisms – bacteria and yeast – that help maintain a correct balance in the gut microbiome to enable healthy digestion and support immune health. One of the ways they support digestion is by contributing to fecal mass and affecting the nerves that control the movement of food through your bowels.
These microorganisms are initially introduced to our bodies as you pass through the birth canal. In healthy bodies with good nutrition, they remain in a healthy, stable balance. However, emotional stress, poor food choices, insufficient sleep and use of antibiotics and other drugs can disturb the gut microbiome balance. When your gut is out of balance, this can lead to digestive issues and a weakened immune system.
There are multiple types of probiotics, and each one may include several species. For example, the well-known Lactobacillus includes more than 50 species. Bifidobacterim and Saccharomyces boulardii are other common probiotics. Foods that are fermented or cultured – like yogurt or kefir – are good sources of probiotics. You can also find numerous dietary supplements providing both probiotics and digestive enzymes, such as Enzymedica’s Digest Gold™ + Probiotics.
Enzymes are proteins. Digestive enzymes, produced naturally in the human body, facilitate chemical reactions that help break down food into absorbable nutrients. Many raw or fermented foods deliver some digestive enzymes but not in high enough levels to actually aid digestion.
Without a good supply of digestive enzymes, the body may find it difficult or impossible to break down certain foods, which can lead to undigested food passing through the body. This may result in occasional heartburn or gas, or other digestive issues. Over time, the intestinal wall may thin, undigested food could pass through openings, enter the body and trigger an immune system response.
People who have insufficient digestive enzymes may develop a food intolerance (different than an allergy) that causes discomfort whenever certain foods are eaten. Taking dietary supplements to increase the level of digestive enzymes may be helpful in digesting dairy, wheat, beans or other foods. Enzymedica offers a wide range of supplements providing digestive enzyme support.
Remember: probiotics create a healthy foundation in the digestive system, while enzymes facilitate the breakdown of foods you eat. Both may be recommended to improve digestive health, but they are definitely not the same.
Myth: dairy Intolerance is due to lactose intolerance
Many people have trouble digesting dairy products. This condition is generally referred to as “lactose intolerance,” which can affect up to 65% of the world’s population. Lactose is the sugar in milk, composed of two sugar molecules: glucose and galactose. The enzyme lactase helps the body break down the sugar into these two molecules. The severity of digestive issues related to lactose intolerance may depend upon the degree of lactase insufficiency. Dietary supplements that provide the necessary enzymes and may support the digestion of dairy products are readily available, including Enzymedica’s Lacto™.
A lactase enzyme supplement can also help break down milk proteins, such as casein. Since as many as 75% of people who have trouble with lactose also have digestive issues with casein, this may be worth considering. In fact, many people who have problems with milk are actually sensitive to the casein – not the lactose. Symptoms of a casein intolerance are similar to those of a lactose intolerance, which makes it difficult to discern. If you have trouble digesting dairy products, read labels carefully. Milk-derived ingredients are often included in processed foods. And be sure to speak with your health practitioner for additional dietary guidance.
Myth: heartburn means you have too much stomach acid
Everyone’s seen the commercials for products claiming to reduce stomach acid in order to prevent heartburn. Believe it or not, sometimes heartburn is associated with too little stomach acid. How can that be?
Proper digestion of proteins requires hydrochloric acid to activate the protein-digesting enzyme, pepsin. Hydrochloric acid also protects the digestive system from an overgrowth of bacteria, and it facilitates the absorption of many essential nutrients, including vitamin B12 and ascorbic acid. But if stomach acid is low, this can lead to occasional heartburn, bloating and gas, along with other digestive issues.
Low stomach acid is not too uncommon. For one thing, as you age, normal gastric acid secretions are reduced. Also, taking antacids may reduce discomfort, but they also block normal digestive processes involving hydrochloric acid and pepsin.
Find some help with Enzymedica Betaine HCl or Acid Soothe™, which features vegan enzymes to support occasional heartburn.†
Know the difference
If you're experiencing digestive issues, seek information from reliable sources, including a consultation with your healthcare provider. Learn about how lifestyle and food choices impact your digestion and overall health, and spend some time researching available nutritional supplements and the companies that provide them. Good nutrition, healthy lifestyle and targeted supplements from trustworthy suppliers can help you improve digestive health.†
†These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.