With extensive expertise and experience in gastroenterology and internal medicine, Dr. Brasco is a valued medical consultant for Garden of Life in the area of digestive health.
I’m a board-certified gastroenterologist, so I see a lot of folks with digestive issues, but I’ve noticed many of my patients have a growing interest in and recognition of the benefits of probiotics. In fact, probiotics are becoming pretty popular in mainstream America and that’s a good thing, since we typically don’t get enough probiotics—and this lack of good bacteria has cost us in terms of our health.
Food processing, pollution, antibiotic overuse and more can reduce the bacteria in our guts, and once good bacteria are diminished, bad bacteria move right in. The good news is that consuming probiotics increases the size of good intestinal bacteria colonies called microflora, thus improving health and digestion. In short, probiotics aid digestion and the absorption of nutrients—basically determining how well-nourished we are.
Probiotics assist digestion in several ways, including the promotion of sound absorption and assimilation of nutrients.† Likewise, probiotics play a key role in peristalsis—the process by which food and wastes move through the digestive system—and help to alleviate the symptoms of occasional constipation.†
Additionally, probiotics support the immune system.† Speaking of the benefits of probiotics…many fermented foods, including cultured dairy like yogurt and kefir, contain an abundance of lactic acid bacteria and other probiotics, so be sure to fill your gut with these good bacteria.
Now for enzymes...
Most of you have heard of enzymes, but there are three main types of enzymes: metabolic enzymes, digestive enzymes, and food enzymes. Metabolic enzymes are instrumental in heart, brain, lung, and kidney function, and literally hundreds of metabolic enzymes keep the body humming along. They're in our cells, internal organs, blood, and even our bones.
Digestive enzymes are secreted by the salivary glands, stomach, pancreas, and the small intestine. They break down large food molecules into smaller units that can be absorbed by the blood and into cells. This is essential because that’s how our bodies get nourished from the macronutrients: proteins, fats and carbs. Digestive enzymes speed up the digestive process and without digestive enzymes, food molecules would break down far too slowly to be absorbed.
Food enzymes are found naturally in raw, uncooked foods and help digest those foods so their nutrients can be absorbed into the bloodstream. Food enzymes, like digestive enzymes, help to digest food so that it can be absorbed properly by the body. Food enzymes can be destroyed, however, when heated above temps of 118 degrees Fahrenheit.
Ah, there’s the rub! We usually lack enzymes from food because we cook them to death. Without those enzymes, our digestive systems work harder to digest food. In fact, cooked foods can take up to 2 or 3 times longer to pass through the digestive system than raw foods do. Eating enzyme-dead food also taxes your pancreas and other organs from the wear-and-tear they undergo digesting mostly cooked foods. Additionally, the more stress put on these organs, the less time they have to rebuild cells and tissues or keep the immune system strong.
So do yourself—and your digestion and overall health—a favor. Make sure you eat foods with plenty of probiotics and enzymes.