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Digestive Enzymes

Enzymes are biological catalysts. Until recently, it was thought that all enzymes were protein in nature. It is now known that ribonucleic acids and other non-protein substances can have enzymatic activity as well. Digestive enzymes include pancreatic enzymes, plant-derived enzymes, and fungal-derived enzymes. There are three classes of digestive enzymes: proteolytic enzymes needed to digest protein, lipases needed to digest fat, and amylases needed to digest carbohydrates. In many cases health care practitioners will prescribe digestive enzymes as supplements for individuals suffering from conditions caused by malabsorption (i.e. cystic fibrosis, pancreatic insufficiency, etc.). Additionally, pancreatic enzymes have been prescribed for use by individuals who are experiencing indigestion which cannot be attributed to a specific cause.

While not substantiated by any meaningful scientific studies, some professionals believe that some allergies are a result of partially-undigested protein. It has been proposed that proteolytic enzymes may help to reduce allergies by further breaking down undigested protein to a size which cannot cause allergies.

It has also been suggested that proteolytic enzymes such as trypsin, chymotrypsin, and bromelain, which are partially absorbed by the body, may have anti-inflammatory and antitumour effects. Proteolytic enzymes may also improve the body's immune system and increase the body's ability to fight off illnesses.

Dosage and Administration

Proteolytic enzymes, lipases, and amylases as supplements are often taken together. Pancreatin, a compound containing all three digestive enzymes, is a common form of supplementation. Three to four grams of pancreatin with each meal is likely to help digest food in some people with pancreatic insufficiency.

Those with chronic pancreatitis need to discuss enzyme intake with their doctor. Some individuals with pancreatic insufficiency caused by pancreatitis are given very high levels of enzymes to improve fat digestion, under medical supervision. It has also been suggested that since pancreatin is rapidly emptied from the stomach during digestion, people taking these enzymes may obtain better results by spreading out supplementation throughout the meal.

For specific supplementation recommendations follow the directions on the manufacturer's packaging.

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