Integrative Health Blog

The Key Benefits of Digestive Enzymes

Posted by Dr. Charles Gant on Thu, May 06, 2021


Digestive enzymes are necessary to break down the food we eat. If we are not breaking down food properly, we do not gain the nutrients needed for the body to absorb and turn into energy for good digestive health

Both kinds of digestive enzymes, animal-derived and vegetarian, are involved in many biological functions, including digestion of proteins and fats and cell signaling. Amylases digest starch, carbohydrates and sugar, Proteases digest protein and Lipases digest fats, the three principle components of food.

The Building Blocks of Life

Proteins are the “building blocks” of life, and the proteins we consume had been assembled, according to the DNA instructions in plants and animals, which we then break down into its amino acids with our digestive enzymes when we eat them, and then use our DNA to reassemble them into new proteins in our body. After we die, they will be broken down again, especially by fungus, so that our amino acids can be recycled and reassembled into another life form. The amino acids and fatty acid that make up our bodies have a long history of being components of many previous life forms, perhaps all the way back to ancient bacteria and dinosaurs.

Digestive enzymes may be the most important nutrients I prescribe for my patients, because when good digestion occurs, a lot of very important healthful benefits will happen as well.

Illness and death can be considered to be caused by starvation. Starvation is a common problem in most of my patients, but it does not usually occur from malnutrition as most of us are eating enough protein and fat. Starvation does not usually occur because of malabsorption, because even those who suffer from the severe gut inflammation can usually still absorb nutrients through the lining of their intestines. Starvation occurs because of maldigestion, so enzymes are very important factors to reverse illness and get well. Maldigestion means that food is not broken down so that it can be absorbed and incorporated into our cellular structures. Our ancestors realized this, and in most cultures, fresh fruit was traditionally consumed to top off the meal with plant enzymes. Papaya and pineapple enzymes are still used for that purpose. In the modern world, that practice has been adulterated by concluding a meal with sweets or deserts which have little or no enzymatic benefits at all.

Toxins and Digestion

Toxins inactivate digestive enzymes, especially heavy metals. They bind to multiple places in long protein strands of enzymes, cross-link them and paralyze their enzymatic activity. Heavy metals inactivate enzymes by attaching to sulfur-containing amino acids, especially cysteine. In vitro, minuscule amounts of heavy metals can completely stop enzymes from working. Taking enzymes as supplements, which are not paralyzed by environmental toxins, is very logical in a world made toxic by the air, food and water which is contaminated by 200 years of an industrial revolution. If not dealing with cancer, vegetarian (e.g., Megazymes) and animal-derived enzymes (e.g., Zenpep, Ultrazymes) should be taken with meals. Both types compensate for the weakness of the other to help make digestion optimal.

Besides digestion, proteases signal cancer cells to stop dividing. Drs. Beard, Kelly and Gonzalez[1] prescribed this treatment to help reverse cancer in their patients.[2] Pancreatic enzymes, taken one hour before meals and bedtime at high doses - should be taken with lecithin which helps in their absorption. We don’t want pancreatic enzymes (e.g., UltraZymes, Zenpep) to be involved with digestion, but to instead get into the bloodstream where they can circulate in the bloodstream and have effects on cancer cells. Vegetarian enzymes (e.g., Megazymes from NuPathways), on the other hand, probably don’t have this anti-cancer effect, so they are prescribed with meals in cancer patients.

Digestive Enzymes and Food Allergies

Enzymes hydrolyze protein, fats and carbs to be absorbed and nurture patients instead of their intestinal flora. If food is undigested, it can feed parasites, fungus and bacteria in the intestines which can contribute to GI inflammation and digestive disorders. Enzymes hydrolyze proteins to mitigate food allergy, and it is theoretically possible (I have seen it happen in my practice) to eliminate food allergy simply by taking enough digestive enzymes. When allergic protein is broken down, the immune system may no longer recognize food protein fragments as a threat, and food allergy may disappear. However, to be certain to eliminate allergic stress, I usually recommend eliminating such food from the diet or limiting consumption, even if optimal enzymes are supplemented.

Both animal-derived and vegetarian digestive enzymes are required for human health, and they contribute to many other health benefits besides digestion. These are universally beneficial and I prescribe them to all patients.


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Dr. Gant functional medicine doctor Wash DCCharles Gant MD, PhD,  is a physician, author and teacher and has practiced Integrative and Functional Medicine for over three decades. He specializes in getting to the root cause of health issues to support healing at the molecular level.  Areas of interest include ADHD, substance use disorders, chronic diseases, metabolic, hormonal and immune disorders, infectious disease, Lyme and co-infections, genetic testing and more. He is an expert in interpretation of functional medicine testing to diagnose precisely what is deficient in each patient, and then replenish those missing, essential items.






Topics: functional medicine, digestive health, gastrointestinal issues