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Digestive enzymes are substances produced by our bodies that help us to digest the foods we eat. These enzymes are secreted by the various parts of our digestive system and they help to break down food components such as proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
Just looking at food is enough to stimulate the secretion of various enzymes from our digestive system. As we smell and eventually taste our food, enzyme secretion increases. When we start to eat, our food first encounters these enzymes in our saliva. As the process of digestion continues, enzymes are secreted by cells within the lining of our stomach, pancreas, and large and small intestines.
Types of Digestive Enzymes
Our bodies produce many different types of essential enzymes to help our bodies to take advantage of the various nutrients found within the foods we consume. Here are examples of some of the more prevalent types of enzymes:
Amylase is a useful enzyme essential for our digestion of carbohydrates, as amylase breaks down starches into sugars. The measurement of amylase levels in the blood is sometimes used as an aid in diagnosing various pancreas or other digestive tract diseases.
Lactase is a type of enzyme that breaks down the sugar, lactose, found in dairy products. Supplemental lactase may be used to assist people who are lactose intolerant to digest dairy products.
Lipase is the enzyme responsible for the breakdown of fats that we consume. Within your body, lipase is produced in small amounts by your mouth and stomach, and in larger amounts by your pancreas.
Proteases are needed enzymes that break down proteins. Here are the major types of proteases found within the human digestive tract:
Keller, J. & Layer, P. "Human pancreatic exocrine response to nutrients in health and disease" Gut 2005 54:1-28.
"Lipase" University of Maryland Medical Center website Accessed December 20, 2011.
Roxas, M. "The Role of Enzyme Supplementation in Digestive Disorders" Alternative Medicine Review 2008 13:307-313.