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the role enzymes play in the human body


Enzymes are essential to the proper functioning of the human body. Enzymes are catalysts, which cause reactions to occur. The two primary classes of enzymes for maintaining life functions are digestive and metabolic enzymes. The primary digestive enzymes are classified as proteases, amylases and lipases. These enzymes aid in the breakdown of food. Metabolic enzymes are responsible for the repairing and structuring of every cell. Inadequate production of digestive enzymes can have a negative impact on the breakdown of food into the various nutrients our bodies require.

Problems associated with Celiac Disease and Lactose Intolerance

Celiac disease is an inflammatory disease of the upper small intestine caused by intolerance to gluten. The small intestine has an inner lining of cells which contain villi (Marks). Gluten damages the villi which line the small intestine. When the villi are damaged or inflamed, they are unable to absorb water and other essential nutrients such as vitamins, folic acid, iron and calcium. The healthy and damaged villi can be observed in figure 1. The healthy villi are able to absorb the essential nutrients that they need to function efficiently. The inflammation caused in people with celiac disease, destroys their villi which causes the inner lining of the small intestine to be flattened (Marks). Due to the damaged lining of the small intestine, digestive enzymes which are essential to the breakdown of foods for complete digestion and absorption are unable to be produced. This can cause a person to be malnourished. Therefore, the food remains in the digestive tract unabsorbed, as it is fermented by bacteria in the digestive tract. This causes bloating and various stomach problems. ( Coeliac Disease and Gluten Intolerance ) The loss of villi reduces the cells surface area for the absorption of nutrients. The amount of small intestine affected by the loss of villi determines the severity or signs and symptoms associated with the diseases. Severe signs and symptoms of malabsorption are evident in people whose small intestine is affected by a loss of villi (Marks). Therefore this explains the various problems a person with celiac disease encounters.


Lactose intolerance occurs when the body has a hard time digesting dairy products. Lactose is a milk sugar and is broken down by enzymes in the intestinal track to be absorbed as an energy source. Lactase is the enzyme which breaks down lactose. Lactose intolerance occurs when the intestine does not contain lactase (Jackson). Low lactose activity in the small intestine, allows undigested lactose to pass into the colon, where the bacteria ferment the sugar to hydrogen gas and organic acids. This causes symptoms such as bloating and cramping ( Lactose Intolerance ). The two causes of lactose intolerance are primary lactase deficiency and secondary lactase deficiency. In primary lactase deficiency the level of lactase enzyme falls as a person gets older. This does not allow the person to tolerate the amount of lactose that they were used to. This affects around 70 percent of the population. Secondary lactase deficiency is a temporary condition in which the level of lactase drops due to an injury of the gastrointestinal tract ( Celiac Disease ). This explains the problems a person with lactose intolerance may encounter on a daily basis.


Uses as Supplements: Digestive Enzymes

Digestive enzymes are produced from animals, plants or fungi. The fermentation of fungi produces various enzymes such as amylase, protease, lipase and lactose. Plant based supplements are able to survive a greater pH than animal or pancreatic enzymes. Digestive enzymes aid in the digestion process. Fungi and pancreatic enzymes are known to improve malabsorption and malnutrition. Digestive enzymes can also break down proteins found in our diets which enter the bloodstream due to inflammatory conditions by breaking down protein. Fungal digestive enzymes also help with lactose intolerance and celiac disease (Peterson). These various enzymes are essential to the proper breakdown of substances in the digestion process.

How and Why Enzymes are used as Supplements to treat Celiac Disease and Lactose Intolerance:

For people dealing with celiac disease, lipase is an enzyme which breaks down fats into fatty acids and glycerol. It also functions in the intestine and blood ( ENZYMES Digestion Aid ). Lipase is essentially produced in the pancreas, but is also produced in the mouth and stomach. People with celiac disease do not produce enough pancreatic lipase; therefore don t have an adequate amount of lipase to get the nutritional value out of their food. Even though many people do not need additional lipase, people suffering with celiac disease find lipase supplements helpful. Suffers of celiac disease must follow a strict gluten free diet. Pancreatic enzymes have also been used as possible treatments for this disease. Supplements which contain lipase and other pancreatic enzymes allow symptoms of bloating and gas to be reduced. Lipase supplements come from animal enzymes, yet they can also come from plant sources. Lipase can be taken with protease and amylase enzymes which are available in tablet form (Ehrlich). This explains how the lipase enzyme can help people suffering from celiac disease.


People who are lactose intolerant lack enough of the enzyme lactase to fully digest the lactose in its simplest sugars, glucose and galactose ( Celiac Disease ). The liver is known to change the galactose into glucose as it enters the bloodstream, raising the blood sugar level of a person. If lactose is unable to completely break down in the blood, the glucose level does not rise, thus a person is considered lactose intolerant. Lactase enzymes are available for people who have a reaction to small amounts of lactose. Some forms of this enzyme are in liquid form for use with milk or in a chewable tablet which aids people in digesting foods which contain lactose. Lactose reduced milk and other products are available to alleviate the problems caused by lactose intolerance ( Information on Lactose ). Therefore the lactase enzyme is of significant importance for people suffering with lactose intolerance.


Due to a lack of enzymes, celiac disease and lactose intolerance can cause unpleasant reactions in some people. There are many things a person can do to alleviate the problems associated with these diseases. Digestive enzymes are produced from animals, plants and fungi which aid in the breakdown of proteins. Lipase is the enzyme which breaks down fats into fatty acids and glycerol, which people with celiac disease lack. Lactase is an enzyme which digests lactose into its simplest sugars: glucose and galactose. People suffering from lactose intolerance lack this enzyme. Enzymes act as pharmaceutical supplements, and can be taken to alleviate the problems associated with both celiac disease and lactose intolerance.


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