Updated: Jun 9, 2021

Inflammation is the body’s way of naturally fighting injury and infection and a vital part of the immune system healing and repairing damaged tissue as well as defending itself against foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria. Without inflammation as a physiological response, wounds would fester, and infections could become deadly.

On the flip side - an inflammatory response can also occur when the immune system goes into overdrive without an injury or infection to fight. Since there’s nothing to heal, the immune system cells that normally protect us - begin to destroy healthy arteries, tissue and joints. This prolonged state of emergency can cause permanent damage to your heart, brain, and other vital organs. When left untreated, prolonged chronic inflammation can increase your risk for diseases like diabetes, heart disease, cancer and rheumatoid arthritis (more about this later).

Let’s get one thing straight – Inflammation is the bodies way of protecting and healing itself, but when it goes wrong or goes on too long, this is where serious problems starts. Let’s examine some of the warning signs and consequences of chronic inflammation:

1. Fatty liver disease Fatty liver disease can be caused by poor diet, which can set off an inflammatory response. Unchecked, this response can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer, liver failure, and can ultimately result in death.

2. Endometriosis Tissue similar to the uterus lining grows in other parts of the body, such as the abdominal cavity, where the resulting inflammation can cause excruciating pain. The disease can be better managed by addressing pro-inflammatory factors.

3. Type 2 diabetes mellitus Low-grade inflammation is common in type 2 diabetes sufferers, but we are only beginning to understand the role inflammation may play in the development of the disease.

4. Type 1 diabetes mellitus The immune system attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Symptoms include increased thirst, frequent urination, hunger, fatigue and blurred vision.

5. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) Umbrella term for ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. The immune system attacks the gut lining causing diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever and weight loss.

6. Asthma Inflammation causes the lining of the airways to swell, narrowing them and making breathing difficult. It also causes the airways to produce more mucus and makes them more sensitive to asthma triggers.

7. Rheumatoid arthritis A painful condition associated with inflammation in the joints. In advanced cases, it can cause damage to the heart, lungs, kidneys, skin, eyes and other tissues.

8. Obesity With obesity, there is an over-accumulation of fatty tissue, which produces and releases a variety of inflammatory messengers, making obesity an underlying condition for many inflammatory and metabolic diseases.

9. Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases Over the past decade, inflammation due to a sustained immune response in the brain has been linked to these two progressive neurodegenerative disorders.

10. Cancer Inflammation caused by chronic infection, inflammatory diseases or environmental factors plays a multi-faceted role in certain cancers, as a primary cause and by helping tumors grow and spread.

When we don’t eat healthy, don’t get enough exercise, or have too much stress, the body responds by triggering inflammation. Chronic inflammation can have damaging consequences over the long term. The food you eat, the quality of sleep you get and how much you exercise, really does matter when it comes to reducing inflammation.

Early symptoms of chronic inflammation may be vague, with subtle signs and symptoms that may go undetected for a long period. You may just feel slightly fatigued, or even normal. As inflammation progresses, however, it begins to damage your arteries, organs and joints. Left unchecked, it can contribute to these chronic diseases just discussed such as heart disease, blood vessel disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and Alzheimers.

The Role of Enzymes in Managing Inflammation:

The body's immunity, vitality and longevity depend on keeping high levels of enzymes. By supplying the body with digestive enzymes from our foods or adding digestive enzyme supplements, we can boost our own body's ability to stay healthy and maintain a balanced gut. And by supporting proper digestion, digestive enzymes also boost immunity, reduce inflammation, fight illnesses and slow the effects of aging.

Causes of Digestive Enzyme Deficiency:

There are many reasons why we do not make enough of our own digestive enzymes. Poor enzyme production can lead to problems of nutrient insufficiency, and even deficiency, resulting in a whole host of health problems. One of the main reasons for reduced output of digestive enzymes is poor exocrine pancreatic function. The causes of Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI) are very diverse ranging from:

• Problems with the endocrine part of the pancreas such as insulin dysregulation from diet high in refined carbohydrates and diabetes

• Gall stones that block the bile duct and reduce/halt the flow of pancreatic juices (biliary stasis)

• Poor function of the Sphincter of Oddi that controls release of bile and pancreatic juices from the bile duct into the small intestines

• Alcohol abuse

• Micronutrient deficiency

• Protein deficiency

• Diets high in refined carbohydrates causing hypoglycemia, insulin resistance and diabetes

• High calorie intake

• Too little or too much exercise

• Other factors that greatly impact on digestive enzyme output include:

• Foods or drinks that promote intestinal inflammation including coffee, alcohol, sugar, highly processed foods

• Individual food sensitivities like gluten, dairy, corn, soy etc.

• Chronic GI infection or inflammation

• Repeated antibiotic exposure, which affects gut microbiota, digestive and liver health

• Physical, emotional or psychological stress, which reduces pancreatic digestive enzyme output, as well as affecting many other areas of digestive function and health

• Smoking

• Pregnancy, which places extra demands on the body’s energy requirements

• Aging, which leads to a decline in pancreatic and digestive function.

Pancreatic Insufficiency - More Details

In a nutshell, this condition refers to the inability of the pancreas to produce enough digestive enzymes to help break down the foods in the intestine. Sometimes, the pancreas may produce the enzymes, but those enzymes are destroyed for various reasons before they perform their function.

The end result in cases of pancreatic insufficiency is malabsorption, diarrhea, high susceptibility to diseases, and other serious health conditions. Thus, under such conditions, the normal therapy is to have the patient take enzymes. There is a trend to use supplemental enzymes derived from plants or fungal fermentations. The advantages of these enzymes is that they are stable to the acid in the stomach and do not require any additional ingredients to protect them from the acid as do the porcine enzymes. Furthermore, many people and their healthcare providers use fungal enzymes due to some recent animal disease concerns associated with enzymes derived from animals.

Lactose Intolerance

When lactose is not digested in the small intestine, it causes diarrhea and flatulence. Lactase is the enzyme responsible for breaking down lactose. Although most everyone has this enzyme as a baby, some people lose it as they stop breastfeeding and as they grow older. For people who lack lactase, drinking or eating any milk product containing lactose results in serious discomfort. This condition of discomfort associated with the lack of the enzyme lactase is called lactose intolerance. Supplemental digestive enzyme products containing effective lactase enzyme can remedy the conditions associated with lactose intolerance.

Casein and Gluten Intolerance

Casein and gluten are 2 major proteins derived respectively from milk and wheat. Some people cannot tolerate casein and/or gluten in their foods. The consumption of these food items creates major health issues, ranging from inflammation to neurobiological disorders. In fact, these 2 proteins are the focus of major research in neurobiological disorders, such as autism, schizophrenia, attention deficit disorder (ADD), and others. Studies have found that in some people, casein and gluten are partially digested. Some of the resulting fragments from this partial digestion are called peptides and act as opioids and are thus termed opioid-like peptides. As the name implies, they act on the brain centers as opioids do, thus creating various mood and behavior issues. As milk and wheat components are found in many food items, the inability to digest them and the consequent health challenges constitute a major concern for patients and their parents. It should be noted that most patients experience the symptoms as kids in terms of autism, ADHD, and ADD.

Many studies have documented the association of these opioid-like peptides derived from casein and from gluten to conditions such as autism and schizophrenia. As a consequence, efforts have been made to incorporate supplemental proteolytic enzymes that break down proteins such as casein and gluten in people with autism and other neurobiological disorders associated with digestive impairment.

In the natural and integrative medicine sector, I have seen many practitioners and even parents adopting enzymes to help in the treatment. Some well-conducted studies have documented the use of enzymes in these cases. Thus, this is another area of application of supplemental enzymes to correct a gastrointestinal disorder that directly or indirectly impact the brain function and overall quality of life.

Although casein and gluten have been extensively studied in relation to their opioid-like peptides, other proteins may also be culprits if not properly hydrolyzed in the gut. This is one of the reasons that including supplemental digestive enzymes could help prevent or reduce the risks of digestive and other health challenges originating from the gut.

Supplemental digestive enzymes could help prevent or reduce the risks of digestive and other health challenges originating from the gut.

Food Allergies

An allergy is by definition an immune reaction elicited by a foreign protein in contact with the body’s immune system. The gut's sophisticated immune system, along with digestive enzymes, helps suppress any allergen-inducing capability contained in the food proteins we consume. However, in cases of insufficient digestive enzyme function in the gut, some proteins can induce an immune reaction that could be very severe. As a result, many people avoid foods that they are allergic to. Sometimes, people may not be aware of the culprit food until after consumption. Supplemental digestive enzymes high in proteases are very helpful in controlling food allergies. As a result, many people go back and eat the foods they were allergic to. The fact is that as long as a protein is completely broken down as in digestion, it loses its capacity to induce any allergic or immunogenic reaction.

Celiac Disease

This condition results from the body’s inability to hydrolyze wheat proteins. As a result, there is an immune reaction that leads to inflammation and injury to the intestinal cells. This condition should not be confused with the gluten intolerance described above that has been associated with neurobiological disorders such as autism. Celiac disease destroys the intestinal cells and thus impairs the functionality of the brush border enzymes, as well as the ability of the cells to perform their absorptive function. Introducing supplemental digestive enzymes containing highly active proteases and peptidases may help with the condition.

Microbial Control

The digestive system receives many bacteria through the foods and beverages we consume. Some of these bacteria are pathogenic or potentially pathogenic. In the stomach, the acid helps kill some of these bacteria; this is another reason that acid in the stomach is good and has a preventative role.

Recently, some researchers have shown that enzymes taken under specific conditions can help prevent infection by bacteria. Many bacteria use some molecules to attach themselves to the surface of a cell before they penetrate the cell and take over its metabolism, thus infecting the cell. These researchers have found that by using enzymes to prevent attachment of the bacteria, they were able to stop infectivity by some pathogenic intestinal bacteria. This is an example of enzyme-controlling bacteria that could induce serious digestive infectious diseases. More research needs to be done in this area to determine the various formulations and conditions under which enzymes could effectively control microbial infection, considering the fact that various bacteria have various infectivity mechanisms.

Colon Health

The colon is like a reservoir or fermentation tank that receives all foods not digested and absorbed in the small intestine. The health of the colon is a function of the taxonomy of the probiotics and their ecological balance, as well as the nutrients they receive. The nutrients received by the probiotics depend largely on the digestive and absorption processes in the small intestine. Thus, besides maintaining good flora in the large intestine, it is important to maintain good digestive function by supplementing with enzymes.

If too much food is not digested and absorbed in the upper small intestine, not only will the body be undernourished, but the organisms in the large intestine could be overwhelmed, and the gut bacteria balance could shift toward the deleterious organisms. Moreover, the composition of undigested foods that reach the large intestine could play an important role in disturbing the ecological balance in the colon.

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