One of the processes that first decline as we age is the production of digestive enzymes. That’s the reason why one of the most popular drugs in the 20-40 year old age group are the antacids or proton pump inhibitors. It usually presents itself as heart burn, indigestion or flatulence. This decline in enzyme production is part of normal aging but dietary and lifestyle influences could actually hasten its occurrence.
For instance, eating primarily cooked, devitalized food could make the process of digestion harder. Eating rapidly or on-the-go (like most busy people) can also affect the digestive process. The normal response to having dyspepsia is to give medications to suppress the symptoms. However, this approach sometimes doesn’t address issues like Helicobacter pylori (or other pathogens that may affect digestion) or chronic elevation of cortisol from prolonged stress. If a person has a documented ulcer by endoscopic procedure, then it’s okay to give these proton-pump inhibitors for a certain period but to take these drugs indefinitely is not a good idea. These medications could actually deplete the body of nutrients such as vitamin B12, D, folic acid, calcium, iron, zinc and protein.
What are enzymes anyway? Enzymes are complex proteins that facilitate chemical reactions in the body. They’re found in digestive juices where they act upon food, breaking it down into simpler molecules that the body can use for energy. Enzymes could be either derived from plants or animals. Popular plant enzymes include bromelain and papain from pineapples and papaya, respectively. Animal enzymes are usually derived from porcine sources. They closely resemble human digestive enzymes. They’re more sensitive to pH changes. Thus, they need to be taken at least 30 minutes prior to meals.
- Dr. Joel Lopez