The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is a highly intricate system of organs that work together to ensure the smooth and effective digestion of our food. It serves as a robust defense against environmental factors and houses a rich symbiotic microbiota. The GI tract needs to strike a balance between allowing essential nutrients to enter the bloodstream while preventing the entry of harmful substances and microorganisms. Given the challenges it faces, our GI tracts can greatly benefit from dietary supplements that promote the integrity of the GI lining and facilitate a seamless digestive process.
Enumerating all the dietary supplements available to support a healthy GI tract would be impractical within the scope of this article. Instead, we will focus on a few compounds that operate in different ways to aid digestion: digestive enzymes, betaine HCl, and ox bile.
As we age, the production of pancreatic enzymes tends to decline, potentially impairing our ability to absorb necessary nutrients for energy, weight maintenance, and muscle mass. In such cases, taking digestive enzyme supplements can be beneficial.
Digestive enzymes encompass a wide range of popular dietary supplements. These enzymes, typically lipases, proteases, and carbohydrases, are protein-based catalysts that accelerate chemical reactions. Lipases break down large fat molecules into smaller fatty acids, proteases break down proteins into smaller peptides, and carbohydrases break down complex sugars into simpler ones. This process liberates essential macronutrients in the digestive tract, improving their absorption into the bloodstream.
Supplemental enzymes like lipases, proteases, and cellulase (an enzyme that breaks down cellulose) may also have a positive impact on gut microbiota. Preclinical studies demonstrate that protease, lipase, and cellulase preparations derived from Aspergillus have bifidogenic effects on rats fed a high-fat diet. While these results need verification through human clinical trials, they suggest that enzyme supplementation could exhibit prebiotic-like properties.
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