Enzymes are necessary for the most fundamental process of life—digestion. Here's why American consumers need enzyme supplements more than ever.
“You are what you digest and absorb," is a more precise saying than "you are what you eat." And the former may be further clarified as, "You are what your enzymes are."
"To put it simply, enzymes are life," asserted Michael Schwartz, founder and president of Michael's Naturopathic Programs of Texas. "Our bodies use enzymes in a multitude of daily functions, both those we produce ourselves and those we must ingest. We need enzymes to maintain the integrity of cells, blood, muscles, bones and tissue. The immune system and organs depend on a healthy daily supply of enzymes—in fact, every part of your body absolutely requires enzymes."
According to Raf Avila, director of research & development for Nature’s Plus in New York, recent statistics show that approximately 60 million Americans live with diagnosed digestive disorders, and another 40 million may have undiagnosed digestive problems, equating to about one-third of the population as having digestive difficulties. "No nutrients, no vitamins, no minerals and no antioxidants can be absorbed or utilized by the human body unless they are digested and absorbed first," he stated. This also means that supplements too can be rendered less effective, or ineffective, due to poor digestion.
In nature, explained Udo Erasmus, author and educator for Washington-based Flora, all animals (except humans and pets) eat their foods fresh, whole, raw and organic—all which contain abundant enzymes. When we eat such foods, the enzymes that they naturally contain can perform anywhere up to 90 percent of the self-digestion (breakdown of foods into essential building blocks for body construction and function) of that food consumed. Human digestive and immune systems complete that breakdown with enzymes produced by our cells and digestive glands.
However, in modern living, because we cook and process our foods, enzymes in that food are destroyed, which places pressure on the body to manufacture more enzymes and work harder to completely digest what's eaten. "Our bodies were not made to have to do this," Erasmus emphasized. Due to continued consumption of processed, enzyme-deficient foods, digestion may be impaired, leading to incomplete and inefficient digestion, thus creating bouts of bloating, gut pain, food sensitivities or allergies, and perhaps even autoimmune conditions.
There are two solutions, according to Erasmus: 1) don't cook food or eat processed packaged products, or 2) take enzyme supplements. "Problem solved!" he declared. "Enzymes are super-fast acting. Some of them catalyze breaking a million or more bonds every second. In five minutes, a single gram of such an enzyme can break down a huge number of food molecules. How huge? 10 septillion—which is a '1' followed by 25 zeros."
Neil E. Levin, CCN, DANLA, nutrition education manager for NOW Foods in Illinois, explained that digestion is a complex process. It first begins with actually smelling the food, which notifies the brain what is coming. Chewing food slowly allows extra time to prepare digestion of the detected substances, and adds the enzyme amylase responsible for digestion of sugars and carbohydrates (starches and fiber).
Next, the stomach responds to the arrival of liquefied food and beverage by secreting pepsin and hydrochloric acid (HCl) to extract nutrients and start the multi-step process of protein digestion. After an hour or two, the contents of the stomach empty into the small intestine, which responds by secreting pancreatic enzymes to complete the digestive process, and bile from the gall bladder to help retrieve fat-soluble nutrients to the liver.
Levin added that if your customer eats a reasonably healthy meal and still has excessive gas, bloating, loss of energy, acidity or other uncomfortable symptoms, he or she is certainly a great candidate to try digestive enzyme supplements.
"The ability to breakdown food into its basic and useful components is of critical concern for consumers interested in functional nutrition for growth, development, and supporting healthy aging," agreed Dr. John Deaton, vice president of technology for Deerland Enzymes in Georgia.
As with any category in the rapidly growing dietary supplement industry, enzymes too have evolved through trends, issues and of course, continued research. Overall, said Levin, formulas have expanded over the years from simple plant and animal enzymes in simplistic formulas (such as HCl-pepsin, bromelain, and papaya) "to much more complex crafted assemblages of wider arrays of enzymes. We also have additional targeted digestive support, such as Gluten Digest (with DPP-IV) and Dairy Digest Complete to help digest a typical serving of whole milk, including the lactose (milk sugar),” he noted.
More recently, Levin added, NOW Foods has innovated with enzyme formulations, such as Acid Relief with Enzymes that contains chewable calcium carbonate as a natural acid buffer combined with a blend of nine enzymes to digest a broad range of food components including protein, fat, and several types of carbohydrates. This formula also stacks several types of protease enzymes to allow protein digestion in a wider range of pH than that of a single source, he said.
Dawn Thorpe Jarvis, MS, RD, LDN, senior director of nutrition science and educational content, Florida-based Garden of Life, noted, "We have seen an increased demand for vegetarian and vegan enzymes as consumers become more aware and conscious of the sources of their enzymes and seek to avoid pork and other animal-derived enzymes. We have also seen a shift towards people seeking raw food diets and therefore also the demand for raw enzymes.”
Jarvis added that Garden of Life has higher-potency enzymes to meet the demands of the American diet. Also, with its clean tablet technology, Garden of Life has removed commonly used excipients from enzyme tablets such as Wobenzym N, she said.
According to Jeffrey Brams, senior vice president at Garden of Life, the company has produced the first-ever certified USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) organic and Non-GMO (genetically modified organism) Project verified, certified vegan enzyme called Dr. Formulated Organic Digest. "We believe that as we educate consumers about the benefits of eating certified organic and non-GMO foods, we must strive to set the same high standards for our digestive enzyme products," he opined. Chewable enzymes were also possible due to the company's clean non-GMO ingredients with no excipients and the technology to make a clean chewable enzyme. "Traditionally, chewable papain has only been available from GMO sources—we had to build a supply chain for non-GMO papain," he related.
Deaton observed that the industry is investing more than ever in enzyme-based products for digestive health, based on the significant increase Deerland Enzymes has been seeing in the number of new products it's been developing with its customers (many of them new to enzymes). In fact, he reported, digestive enzymes are projected to be among the best-selling dietary supplements through 2016, with a projected growth rate of 6.3 percent (Sloan Trends).
Within this, Deaton detailed, many of the company's customers have begun to focus on developing products for consumers with gluten sensitivity. An enzyme-based supplement taken with meals can assist the body in breaking down the proteins that can cause immune responses, such as gluten proteins. He explained that research shows the fastest way to break down gluten is to cleave its peptide bonds internally and externally, so the scientists at Deerland Enzymes have developed Glutalytic that contains both endo- and exopeptidases to break down gluten proteins faster and more efficiently than traditional DPPIV-only supplements.
"By attacking the gluten protein in two ways, gliadin, the major immune eliciting protein fraction in gluten, can be degraded down from gram to milligram quantities by the time it reaches the small intestine,” he said. “Glutalytic also has the unique ability to break down competing proteins that may also be present in a gluten-containing meal, such as milk, nuts, fish and soy."
Dairylytic, also from Deerland Enzymes, is a dual-functioning enzyme blend containing lactase and a unique protease enzyme blend developed for superior protein and sugar degradation, according to Deaton. Dairylytic is formulated to break down the lactose associated with intolerance, as well as enable easier digestion and absorption of milk proteins whey and casein.
In addition, the company offers ProHydrolase to assist healthy digestion of whey, soy, casein, pea and hemp protein. It reduces digestive discomfort associated with consumption of protein supplements, which is caused when protein is not completely broken down.
According to Avila, one of the greatest improvements in digestive enzymes has been the new technologies that allow production via fermentation without allergens, such as milk and wheat. "This has allowed the creation of dietary supplements with microbiologically produced enzymes that are more active and more robust than animal derived enzymes," he said. For example, he offered, microbially-produced lipase is much more active than pancreatin-derived lipase, and it survives the human stomach, whereas the latter does not.
Nature's Plus Source of Life Gold brand products, noted Avila, supplies effective digestive enzymes. Nature's Plus offers a wide line of enzyme supplements including: GI Natural, Ultra-Zyme, Ultra Bromelain, Say Yes to Dairy chewable, Acti-Zyme, Papaya chewable, Say Yes to Beans, among several others.
As many natural health retailers may know, loyal customers who invest in self care are aware of the benefits of adding digestive enzymes to their routines. In the Pharmaca stores located in Colorado, New Mexico, California and Washington, Don L. Summerfield, co-founder and vice president of integrative medicine, asserted that Pharmaca customers have "a good understanding of the benefits of digestive and proteolytic enzymes. Digestive health and pain care are very popular health care categories. Many of our customers may have had digestive or proteolytic enzymes recommended to them by their health care providers or our staff practitioners.”
However, he advised, without proper staff education many customers may not know the correct therapeutic dosage or usage to obtain optimal results from digestive or proteolytic enzymes. And, there's more to enzymes than digestive issues.
"Enzymes are typically recommended for various digestive health issues such as poor ability to digest dairy, gluten, fats, beans and high fiber veggies or high protein diets," he said. "But proteolytic systemic enzyme formulas like Wobenzym N are recommend for inflammation, joint mobility and flexibility." Still, it doesn't hurt for staff to ask supplement consumers about their digestion—rarely will they give an "Oh, no problems there" type of response. Depending upon how candid your customer may be, you may hear that he or she experiences gas and bloating, or is already aware of a problem digesting certain food groups.
"When asked, most people will acknowledge that they experience discomfort after eating a meal," Brams emphasized. He encouraged retailers to be more aggressive in motivating customers to try an enzyme product, as the experience of smoother digestion will likely be felt.
Retailers should also remind customers that spending money on better quality food and dietary supplements may be wasteful unless they add enzymes, which increase absorption of macronutrients and micronutrients.
Garden of Life, he added, will continue to provide educational material such as brochures, flyers, magazine articles and website information about the importance of digestive enzymes, as well as why certified organic and non-GMO matters when buying enzymes. "We are big believers of teaching people how to eat a natural clean organic and non-GMO diet comprised of real foods along with adding quality probiotics, prebiotic fiber and digestive enzymes also made from real food," he said.
When people tell Erasmus they have digestion issues, he said he directs them to ensure they ingest enough fiber from plant-based whole foods, and to also consume a digestive-enzyme blend and a probiotics blend—all of which are plentiful in any natural health store and can add multiple sales. Erasmus asserted that "enzyme sales can massively increase" when retailers convey their benefits and value to customers. However, there is still some misinformation, he pointed out.
"Some detractors say that enzymes are destroyed in the stomach,” Erasmus noted. “No worry. In the time they have after we mix them in our food until they finally get inactivated by stomach acid, enzymes can accomplish a great deal of digestion. Some enzyme experts suggest that enzymes actually survive digestion and continue to act throughout our digestive tract, and that enzyme detractors may actually be wrong in their opinion. Clearly, more research could clarify the truth."
Of particular importance, pointed out Deaton, is apprising customers about the way enzyme efficacy is measured. Unlike conventional supplements that are measured by weight, enzymes are measured by their activity, and often in varying units. You can do this with eye-catching signage and of course, staff interaction.
"It’s important for consumers to know that for enzyme based supplements, more milligrams don’t necessarily equal increased potency," he clarified.
And although taking the proper enzymes will make consumers feel an improved sense of digestion, Levin said he also believes that consumers will absolutely benefit by learning how to properly chew and digest their food, and to eat natural foods. Many people don't pay attention to how quickly they devour a meal or even a snack, but in this fast-paced world, swift eating has become a norm, and can certainly impair healthy digestion by not allowing enzymes to be released in proper amounts.
"Beyond that, we typically suggest that they start with simpler formulas of plant-based vegetarian-friendly enzymes," he said. "One reason for this is that there is some evidence that supplementing the animal-derived enzymes can reduce our own production of these enzymes because of feedback mechanisms reporting adequate amounts present from the supplement."
Enzymes can certainly be creatively cross merchandised in the produce department to attract customers who are buying healthier foods but may not be purchasing supplements that day. They can also be synergistically sold with the widening variety of pre- and probiotic products.
And, why not have an "Enzyme Awareness Day?" This can include in-store seminars and discounts on enzyme supplements that day only. At the end of the seminar, have food samples available with bullet-points of the enzymes needed to digest them. Creative flyers can proclaim, "If food is love, food without sufficient enzymes is a fleeting affair—but food paired with enzymes is the romance that lasts forever."
When ruminating about the future of this category, Erasmus stated, "Enzymes are just not yet in fashion. Omega-3s and probiotics are now in fashion because of such education, and also because more and more research has been done with them. Probiotics are now all the rage. Digestive enzymes are next." VR
For More Information:
Deerland Enzymes, (800) 697-8179
Flora, Inc., (604) 731-4255
Garden of Life, (561) 748-2477
Nature's Plus, www.naturesplus.com
NOW Foods, (800) 999-8069
Deerland Enzymes, (800) 697-8179
Flora, Inc., (604) 731-4255
Garden of Life, (561) 748-2477
Nature's Plus, www.naturesplus.com
NOW Foods, (800) 999-8069