Choosing Your Digestive Enzymes
There are several hundred digestive enzyme formulas on the market. Unfortunately, the vast majority of them aren’t even worth the cost of the bottles they are packaged in. Today, I want to give you the tools to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to those formulas. Those tools center around your ability to identify:
- Watered down formulas
- Actual enzyme activity
- Why the “My protease is bigger than your protease” game is useless
- The importance of pH ranges in designing a formula
- What about enteric coating
- Animal sourced enzymes VS vegetarian sourced enzymes
- Whether or not your formula is designed for the real world
- How to use an enzyme formula
- The importance of HCL — and where it belongs
- Dual action formulas VS dedicated formulas
Watered down formulas
All too often, nutritional formulas are designed by people who get their “expertise” from books, not real world experience. This makes for formulas that may look good on paper, but make no sense in the real world. Examples include formulas that contain 30 ingredients stuffed into a 500 mg capsule. On paper, it gives companies bragging rights to all of these great ingredients in their formula, which some people think is a good thing. But the reality is that if all the ingredients are equal in the formula, that means 16.7 thousandths of a gram of each ingredient is present. In fact, the reality is usually worse, with the first few ingredients getting more and the rest getting as little as 4, or even 2, thousandths of a gram. Incidentally, a full gram is only1/28 of an ounce. When you get down to 2, 4, or even 16.7 thousandths of a gram, you’re talking pixie dust levels for a given ingredient.
So what does this have to do with digestive enzymes? Well, it’s hard enough to stuff all of the enzyme activity you need into a 500 mg capsule, even packing it full to the brim with the highest quality enzymes. And yet, so many enzyme formulas, stuff their enzyme capsules with more herbs than enzymes because it looks good on the label. For example, I went on the net and randomly pulled up a major selling enzyme formula. It has just a little over 100 mg of enzymes in each capsule. It has 300 mg of herbs (nothing wrong with them except for the fact they have nothing to do with the purpose of the formula) and 100 mg of fillers. That means that with this formula, it will take you 5 capsules to get the enzyme activity you would get from just one properly designed capsule.
Actual enzyme activity
And that brings up another issue — enzyme activity. Be suspicious of any enzyme formula that lists the mgs of enzymes present as opposed to the activity level of each enzyme in the formula. Activity level is what you’re after. Two batches of the same enzyme of equal weight can have wildly different activity levels. The bottom line is that when it comes to enzymes, weight measurements are just not useful and can be downright misleading, as there is no direct relationship between weight and units of activity. In fact, an enzyme can still have a weight even if it has been destroyed and has zero activity. When comparing enzymes, if you want an apples to apples comparison, you need to compare activity levels.
The internationally recognized and accepted standard for measurement is by Food Chemical Codex (FCC) Units. This is usually expressed in different activity units for each type of enzyme, as in:
- Protease – HUTs (Hemoglobin units, tyrosine basis)
- Amylase – SKB (named after the creators of the test Sandstedt, Kneen, and Blish ) or DU (used in the brewing industry)
- Lipase – LU
My protease is bigger than your protease
The hot game in enzyme formulas right now is comparison tables so you can see that brand A has more protease than brand B or C. This is not necessarily useless, but it is marginal. It ignores a number of factors
- First of all, unless you are on a “meat lover’s diet”, you need far less protease than most of these formulas contain.
- On the other hand, you need more amylase and more lactase if you want a formula designed for the way most people eat.
- And high HUT numbers for protease, provide an incomplete picture. Unless the formula also contains a significant amount of acid stable protease, you will find that your supplement just doesn’t work as well as expected.
So what numbers should you look for?
- Protease: A minimum of 33,000 HUT should be adequate for most meals. (Remember, you can always take a second or third capsule for meals that require it.)
- Acid stable protease: 1,000 SAPU would be great. Most formulas have none at all.
- Lipase: 5,000 LU is adequate
- Amylase: Look for 12,000 SKB
- Lactase: 1,500 LACU is the minimum with 2,000 or even 2,500 being better
- Look for a variety of other enzymes such as Malt diastase, Invertase, Glucoamylase, Cellulase, and Hemicellulase
And look for Alpha galactosidase to help control gas
Whether or not your formula is designed for the real world
This ties into what we’ve just talked about. Extremely high protease numbers do not reflect the average “western” diet — a diet high in carbohydrates, fats, and dairy products. Even people who try and avoid these items often find them sneaking in unbeknownst to them. For example, if you eat out at restaurants, you find dairy used in soups, sauces, and pastas. Formulas need to be designed for the way you eat, not for “ideal” diets or to help manufacturers win bragging contests in advertising comparison tables.
pH ranges in which a formula works
We’ve already talked a little about the importance of pH ranges for proteases, but this is so important, let’s cover it in a little more detail.
Most people believe that when you eat a meal it drops into a pool of stomach acid, where it’s broken down, then goes into the small intestine to have nutrients taken out, and then into the colon to be passed out of the body. Not quite.
What nature intended is that you eat enzyme rich foods and chew your food properly. If you did that, the food would enter the stomach laced with digestive enzymes. These enzymes would then “predigest” your food for about an hour — actually breaking down as much as 75% of your meal.
After this period of “predigestion,” hydrochloric acid and pepsin are introduced. The acid inactivates all of the food-based enzymes (except the acid stable enzymes), but begins its own function of breaking down what is left of the meal. Eventually, this nutrient-rich food concentrate moves on into the small intestine. Once this concentrate enters the small intestine, the acid is neutralized and the pancreas reintroduces digestive enzymes to the process. As digestion is completed, nutrients are passed through the intestinal wall and into the blood stream.
That’s what nature intended. Unfortunately, most of us don’t live our lives as nature intended! Processing and cooking destroy enzymes in food. This means that, for most of us, the food entering our stomachs is severely enzyme deficient.
At first, the food sits there for an hour, like a heavy lump, with very little predigestion taking place. Even after the stomach acid has done its work, the meal enters the small intestine largely undigested. But gradually, we train our body’s to respond more and more quickly with ever increasing amounts of stomach acid in an attempt to compensate for the lack of predigestion. The consequences are:
- Acid reflux which is caused by the high levels of acid introduced too early in the process and splashing up into the esophagus. Oftentimes, the mere act of using digestive enzymes can eliminate acid reflux. Note while the use of prescription and over the counter acid reflux drugs may help alleviate the symptoms of acid reflux, they significantly aggravate the following three problems.
- Incomplete digestion. High levels of stomach acid cannot adequately overcome the lack of predigestion. That means that food is only partially digested, which means that many proteins that are not sufficiently broken down enter the blood stream causing allergic and autoimmune problems. Another problem is chronic indigestion. Acid reflux drugs which reduce the amount of stomach acid make this problem even worse.
- Eventually, you blow out the ability of your stomach to produce sufficient stomach acid, which means incomplete digestion. A common condition in the elderly. Again, if you use drugs that artificially suppress your stomach’s acid making abilities, you eventually kill its ability to produce stomach acid.
- Malnutrition. Incomplete digestion means that you don’t get the nutrient value from your meal. A common condition in the elderly. Again, aggravated by the use of acid reflux medications.
Since it is known that digestive enzymes don’t mix with stomach acid, some formulators enteric coat their digestive enzymes. But this is counterproductive — the result of book learned theory, not real world experience. If the enzymes are enteric coated, they won’t begin working until they reach the intestinal tract. This is a good thing for proteolytic enzymes, but not digestive enzymes. The primary role of digestive enzymes is to work in predigestion. If the enzymes are enteric coated, that is an impossibility.
Animal VS Vegetable
Experience shows that vegetarian based enzymes are a better bet than animal based enzymes
- Their activity levels are more consistent
- They are less likely to be contaminated with pesticides and xenoestrogens
- They are less likely to contain prions — a concern relative to mad cow disease
How to use an enzyme formula
So how many enzymes should you take? Well, that depends on the strength of your formula and the size of your meal. If one capsule works for most of your meals, you may find you need to take 2 when you overindulge, or 4 on Thanksgiving.
And when do you take your enzymes? I’ve seen instructions that recommend taking enzymes after you eat your meal, but that makes no sense. The moment dead food enters the stomach, your body recognizes that it has no enzymes and starts pumping in stomach acid. If you have your enzymes after eating your meal, they will be rendered inactive by the stomach acid being pumped in and provide much less benefit — at least until they are reactivated by the alkaline environment of the intestinal tract, but by then much of their value will be gone. On the other hand, if you take them too soon, they will clear the stomach and be absorbed into your bloodstream before they have a chance to help digest your food. The simple answer is to take them just before you start eating. This sends a signal to your body that enzymes are present and begins to train your body to hold back on the stomach acid for the 40-60 minutes that nature intended
And if you forget to take your enzymes before you start eating, they can still be of use after you eat — depending on the size of the meal and how heavy it is, and if your formula contains acid stable protease. In fact, you may find that you can still get great benefit taking enzymes 3-4 hours after eating a large heavy meat, starch, and fat meal — you know, the kind that sits in the stomach like a giant piece of lead for for three days!
Some enzyme formulas like to include HCL (stomach acid) in the form of Betaine Hydrochloride to aid in digestion. But for the reasons that we’ve just talked about, this does not make sense. Taking Betaine HCL with your enzyme supplement (or as part of it) creates an acid environment too soon in the digestive process. The bottom line is that for those who need supplemental HCL (a significant percentage of the elderly), it should be taken as a separate supplement 40-60 minutes after you finish eating.
Dual action formulas
It is possible to use digestive enzymes as systemic proteolytic enzymes (enzymes designed to clean out the bloodstream and body, and which are taken without food so they go into the bloodstream). In fact, for years I designed enzyme formulas in this way. It’s convenient, and it does work. The problem is that you have to compromise your formula to do this. A capsule can only hold so much. If you beef up the protease to accommodate the proteolytic functions, you have to back off from the other digestive enzymes. But if you make the formula a full spectrum digestive enzyme formula, you have to cut back on the proteases, or at least the ability of the proteases to work in a wide range of pHs. In the end, you get much more effective formulas if you split them in two and design your digestive enzymes as pure digestive enzymes and your proteolytics as a pure proteolytic formula.
In our next issue, I’m going to talk about proteolytic enzyme formulas. A good proteolytic formula can make a profound difference in the state of your health. I’ll also talk briefly about the release of what I consider one of the most important formulas that I’ve been involved with in the last five years — the strongest proteolytic formula available in the world today.
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