Trend Watch- Digestive Enzymes

by Christine Hronec

Digestive enzymes are an exciting category given its current growth and potential. This market fills a need for the ever-growing segment of the population managing food sensitivities and intolerances.

Enzymes are large proteins naturally produced by the body to support internal chemical reactions. Of the billions of reactions that make our body function each day (called metabolism), most require a “push” in order to happen. More than 2,000 different kinds of enzymes are known, each specifically tailored to one kind of reaction. Various types of cells only manufacture the specific enzymes they need. Therefore, it follows that digestive enzymes are manufactured and sent to work when and where they are needed: in the stomach and intestines after a meal to break down food into its smallest constituent parts so the body can utilize them for nourishment.

There are a number of reasons that this process can fall short of its intended outcome. First, individuals can have genetic abnormalities whereby their bodies have lost the ability to produce certain enzymes. For example, a person can be unable to make the enzyme lactase, which helps to break down the sugars in milk; thus the lactose-intolerant individual. Diseases can also lower the body’s production of enzymes, such as lowered levels of the enzyme lipase (which breaks down fats), which can occur in pancreatitis, Crohn’s disease, gastric bypass or pancreatic cancer. Others simply suffer from insufficient levels of certain enzymes, such as those who experience bloating and gas after eating fruits, vegetables, beans or whole grains. These people are deficient in alpha-galactosidase, which helps to digest complex carbs.

In all of these cases, supplementation with enzymes can bring digestion back to comfortable levels, decreasing chronic side effects and increasing the nourishment that can be derived from foods. Potential marketing claims for products containing digestive enzymes include:

  • “for children and adults experiencing multiple food intolerances”
  • “an effective way to support digestion”
  • “promotes intestinal well-being”
  • “optimizes digestion”

Of course, the use of any of these phrases must be properly evaluated in context. When it comes to highlighting the connection of enzyme applications to specific conditions, it is important to stay within structure/function claim guidelines and not discuss effects on that condition. As a category poised for growth, it will be exciting to see what new research can do to accelerate our understanding of the benefits of enzymes, and how that can improve quality of life for so many individuals.

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