The purpose of a digestive supplement is to support the functions of the digestive tract. The digestive tract starts in the mouth and ends in the rectum. All the organs along the way are part of the digestive tract, if they contribute to the purpose of breaking down any food that is eaten.
Digestion actually starts in the mouth. The minute that you begin to salivate as a result of smelling delicious foods or thinking about how good a food tastes is the minute that digestion begins. Inside the saliva are salivary amylase enzymes that can digest starches.
The stomach produces hydrochloric acid, pepsin and gastric amylase to continue the digestive process. Pepsin is a protease, a protein in enzyme form that can break down proteins. Gastric amylase is the stomach version of amylase, the same one you had in the mouth, which breaks down carbohydrates in the stomach.
The stomach also produces the enzymes gelatinase and rennin. Gelatinase breaks down any gelatin or collagen in the meat you eat such as the cartilage found at the end of chicken bones or in jello. Rennin converts milk to solid particles much more easily digested.
You may be wondering about fat digestion and the fat enzymes. Why haven’t they come onto the scene yet? The answer is that fat enzymes are secreted by the pancreas. Pancreatic protease enzymes will continue digestion of protein foods such as meat, fish and dairy products. The intestinal tract will funnel the amino acids from the digestion of these proteins into the bloodstream where they are carried to the parts of the body that need to be rebuilt.
Fat is the slowest food to digest – despite the old wives tale that your body can’t digest meat. Pancreatic lipase starts the digestion of fat once the food from the meal has left the stomach. The small parts of fat are then sent into the bloodstream just as the amino acids were sent.
Pancreatic amylase digests more of the carbohydrates found in your meal. Just as the small parts of the proteins and fats were sent into the bloodstream, the simple sugars released from the breakdown of carbohydrates are then sent into the bloodstream.
There are other enzymes produced by the pancreas such as trypsin, steapsin, chymotrypsin, carboxypeptidase, elastases, nucleases, and phospholipase. Each of these has its own special function in breaking down protein, fat or carbohydrates.
In the small intestine, lactase, maltase, sucrase, and isomaltase convert sugars to smaller particles. Cholecystokinin stimulates further digestion of proteins and fats.
Thus, a good digestive supplement will contain many of these enzymes. It’s common for digestive supplements to include the following:
• hydrochloric acid
The question is often asked whether or not a good digestive supplement needs all these to help foster better digestion. The answer is no; however, the greater number of ingredients you have included, the greater the support you are receiving for your digestive system.
Some more advanced formulas will also contain probiotics since microbes assist in the further breakdown of food as well as the creation of some vitamins in the intestine. If you have digestive complaints, one of the first natural steps you can take to alleviate them is to support your digestive system with digestive supplements.