What is the relationship between gut health and overall health/immune function?
Gut health has a reciprocal relationship with the body’s overall physical and mental health. For example, the brain’s thoughts and emotions directly impact the functions of your gut, and the functions of your gut directly impact the brain’s thoughts and emotions. This is known as the brain-gut axis.
Gut health refers to the role of a healthy digestive tract as it pertains to prevention or treatment of various symptoms, medical conditions or diseases. The proper functioning and maintenance of our digestive tracts, or gut health, relies on several key components. These include eating a healthy and balanced diet, exercise, and properly functioning digestive enzymes. It also involves trillions of microorganisms, including “good bacteria,” that reside within our digestive tracts. These bacteria serve a variety of important functions:
A) They can help boost our immune system. This helps not only to thwart off inflammation, illness or infection, but to prevent them as well.
B) They can optimize our body’s digestive processes. This can lead to treatment or prevention of various symptoms or conditions, including diarrhea, bloating, gas, pain, and even constipation.
C) They can regulate and maintain blood sugar levels. This helps to prevent high spikes of blood sugar, which leads to weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension) and a variety of other conditions.
D) They support our mental health, through the brain-gut axis, helping to control and prevent depression and anxiety
Do some people produce less enzymes than they need?
The short answer is yes. The idea for FRISKA, a newly launched digestive enzyme brand, stems from founder John Peine’s personal health issues including acute pancreatitis. What he discovered was that while the benefits of probiotics are widely known, the power of enzymes is often overlooked. Peine also has a background in healthcare and was able to study firsthand how American consumers interact with supplements. In looking at the landscape, particularly proactive digestive health, it was a sea of sameness that was intimidating, clinical and really hard for the consumer to build empathy towards. The fact that you can take a multivitamin for 20 years and not tell if it works; he was inspired to create a product that he could proudly stand behind and consumers could feel working.
Digestive Enzymes and Probiotics
What do we need to know about digestive enzymes? How are they different from probiotics? Do they work together?
Digestive enzymes are naturally produced by the body to help aid in the appropriate breakdown and absorption of nutrients from our food. However, there are some conditions where the body may become deficient in these enzymes, or they may not function properly. This is where enzyme supplementation may be helpful for some individuals.
Probiotics are a selected group of beneficial microorganisms that are ingested in food or supplemental form. By taking these on a regular basis, and thus keeping a plentiful supply of “good bacteria” in our intestinal tracts, many people have (or hope to) derive many of the benefits. These include boosting our immune systems, maintaining a healthy weight, treating a variety of conditions and symptoms (see details in question 1).
One way that good bacteria contained in probiotics may optimize our body’s digestive processes is that they have their own digestive enzymes, some of which help us further breakdown our foods and optimize our nutrition.
We have been hearing a lot about prebiotics. How do they fit into the picture of gut health?
Prebiotics are foods or substances that we consume to help our body’s own natural good microorganisms or bacteria to thrive. One common example of a prebiotic is dietary fiber. Fiber helps keep us “regular” by promoting elimination of waste and toxins through our intestinal tracts. Fiber does this, in part, because we cannot digest or absorb it. However, our microorganisms can and often do feed on fiber. This helps promote the growth and health of the “good bacteria” in our intestinal tracts
Antibiotics and Gut Health
If one takes a round of antibiotics, does that disrupt the gut and what would one do to fix it?
Antibiotics are given to treat an underlying infection. However, they do not only target and destroy the specific bacteria causing the infection, but also a variety of others that reside within our intestinal tracts. This can lead to a disruption of the normal balance or homeostasis of the microorganisms within your gut. In other words, it could tip the scales away from favoring the good bacteria and optimal digestive health to bad ones and maldigestion.
To help restore the gut’s natural homeostasis, one can eat a variety of prebiotics (including fiber) and nutrients that promote the growth and support the body’s good bacteria. Additionally, consuming probiotics, either those naturally occurring in certain foods, or supplementation can help to restore and maintain that homeostasis even more quickly and effectively.
Is there a time of day that is best to take an enzyme supplement?
Enzymes generally work best when taken prior to eating on an empty stomach. This minimizes the possibility of them being destroyed or deactivated by the harsh acidic environment of your stomach, which becomes more active and potent with food intake. Plus, taking enzymes prior to introducing the food they are supposed to help break down, as opposed to after, can make them more effective.
How does one determine what a good enzyme supplement would be? Where does one buy them? Is there an adjustment period in the body to taking enzymes? That is, does one start slow and ladder up, or is one a day the right amount?
A good enzyme supplement tends to be balanced, with a variety of enzymes used to break down the 3 major macronutrients found in our diets. These include those that break down fats (lipases), proteins (proteases) and carbohydrates. However, the optimal dose, amount, and proportions needed will vary from person to person. This partly depends on whether they have known enzyme deficiencies, certain predisposing medical conditions, or intolerances to certain foods. As a general rule, physicians will often advise their patients to “start low and go slow,” with the goal of using the lowest effective dose to treat the underlying symptoms or condition.
General enzyme replacement supplements are available over the counter at your local pharmacy or grocery/natural foods store. They are also available by prescription from a doctor. However, prescribed enzyme replacements are used most often to treat specific medical conditions where the selected deficiencies are best known and well-studied, such as in chronic pancreatitis, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency or cystic fibrosis.
Enzyme Production and Age
Does enzyme production by the body fall off with age? What would the symptoms of that look like?
There is good evidence to suggest that enzyme production decreases within various organs of our bodies as we age. These include enzymes normally produced in the liver, small bowel and pancreas. Sometimes, decreased enzymes in the body can lead to certain vitamin and nutritional deficiencies. These can be associated with specific medical conditions (such as pancreatic insufficiency, lactose intolerance, both of which become more common as we age). Some people can experience symptoms including abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
By gastroenterologist, Dr. Gregory Bernstein, M.D. aka The Seattle Gut Doctor.