Whether You’re Bloated, Feeling Blue or Battling the Bulge You Should Consider Taking Digestive Enzymes
By Dr Brooke Kalanick, ND, LAc
Digestion: could there be a less sexy topic? Let’s face it, no one wants to talk about feeling bloated, having lots of tummy gurgles or how often they are going #2. But digestion – sexy or not – is a huge reflection of your overall health and has a major part to play in your metabolism and ability to lose weight.
Digestive Enzymes for your Health
When I work one on one with patients, they are often shocked to hear that feeling bloated after a meal is not a normal response to eating. Or that a healthy, effortless bowel movements should be part of every morning. And that they shouldn’t be growing increasingly sensitive to various foods. For example, many say they used to be able to eat a variety of foods without issue and now notice issues with various foods including many grains or diary – or all of a sudden they have upset after eating in restaurants. This is all too common, but doesn’t have to be this way.
Tummy Trouble: How Did We Get Here?
While “wellness” is a movement these days, most of us are still running ourselves ragged with little sleep, poor nutrition and stress from every angle leaving us unwell particularly in the gut department.
We are not only dealing with an increasingly unbalanced world with unhealthy, packaged food options and often sedentary jobs (as I type this on my computer….) but even those of us that lead a “healthy” lifestyle are often under unseen stressors.
We are usually hip to the obvious stresses of a demanding job or a busy family life. We know financial stress and emotional stress, we get that but often we miss how stressful it can be to plan a wedding, embark on a new but exciting job, or have a new baby. And even often seemingly healthy food options like whole grains or plant based proteins (i.e. soy) could be causing undue stress on our systems if we’re sensitive or intolerant to them. And healthy behaviors like exercise can of course be taken to the extremes – or done on 3 hours of sleep – and create more stress.
There’s the stress we see, the stress we may miss and all the stress we unknowingly cause ourselves by eating foods that may not work for us and even the common diet practices of over-exercising and undereating. This is all stress – and your body doesn’t know the difference.
Stress can impact us in infinite ways ranging from changes in mood or sleep, new skin issues or breakout, depression or anxiety and all this stress hits your gut like a Mack truck.
How Stress Impacts the Gut Causing Everything from Bloating to A Bad Mood
When we’re stressed we get locked into fight or flight mode which is managed by our sympathetic nervous system. The flip or counter side to this is our parasympathetic system. While the sympathetic side handles the adrenaline and cortisol fueled fight or flight, parasympathetic system is about rest and digest.
Chronic, repetitive stress where our sympathetic system is on hyper-drive will inhibit our parasympathetic system causing a decrease stomach acid and digestive enzyme output leading to a cascade of digestive troubles. Without stomach acid we get heart burn, bloating and a disruption in the healthy bacteria that inhabit our intestines.
Once the bacterial balance is disrupted from stress, antibiotic use, eating foods we’re sensitive to, having autoimmunity such as Hashimoto’s (a very common thyroid issue, learn more here) a vicious cycle of inflammation, more bloating and difficult weight loss ensues.
When we’re dealing with a gut that’s been disrupted by stress we are not only cranky because our waistband is tight due to the gas and bloating, but our blood sugar balance gets disrupted, our protein metabolism becomes inadequate and nutrient absorption is compromised. All of these will lead to changes in neurotransmitter imbalances such as with serotonin (our gut actually makes 99% of our body’s serotonin) causing depression, anxiety and/or cravings.
Now we’re bloated, depressed, gaining weight and becoming increasingly inflamed. This is a real problem as inflammatory chemicals such as IL-6, TNFα and NFkβ will all downregulate or inhibit an enzyme called hormone sensitive lipase which is responsible for releasing fat from a fat cell to be burned. These nasty little guys also cause our liver to release more fat and sugar into our blood stream contributing to insulin resistance – and you guessed it, makes it harder to lose weight.
And one more bit of bad news for our body comp: up to 20% of your active thyroid hormone, your metabolic motor, is regenerated by healthy gut bacteria (through processes called acetylation and sulfation). So without a healthy gut you could be losing up to 20% of your thyroid function and thus really, really struggling to lose weight.
Long story short: gut health is crucial for health and a healthy metabolism. Thus in my practice, a gut restoration program is often the first order of business as I get someone’s metabolism and health back inline. This is done with a 4 step process:
- Remove foods that may be increasing inflammation or furthering gut bacterial imbalance, and treat any low grade infections in the intestines.
- Repair the gut lining with nutrients such as l-glutamine and herbs like slippery elm and aloe.
- Repopulate the gut with good bacteria (i.e. probiotics).
- Replace digestive enzymes and stomach acid (HCL) whose production affected from the occasional stress. A great product that covers both the HCL and enzymes is NOW® Super Enzymes. I love this product because it has 200mg of Betaine HCL and while some people need more, this is a great place to start.
NOW also has a plant based enzyme formula without Betaine HCL which is gentler and where I’d suggest you start if you have “unhappy” gut.
In the case of autoimmunity, there is very often a situation of low HCL but I’d caution using this without guidance as there can be immune based issues in the stomach that can get a little dicey in the presence of too much HCL. In these situations best to do some real healing of the gut, normalize the immune system a bit and then work on proper HCL supplementation.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.