By Taz Bhatia, MD

You know the importance of what you eat and how it impacts the rest of your body. But what you might not realize is how your food is digested in your body. The process is important, as your digestive system isn’t only responsible for breaking down food, but also absorbing important nutrients in the body. This is the part that’s often overlooked, and what research is showing to be the catalyst for many digestive diseases, such as leaky gut, acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s disease. 

What Are Digestive Enzymes?

Digestive enzymes—some of which are produced naturally in our body from the pancreas—help us break down the food we eat into smaller, absorbable particles. But there’s another way to score key enzymes—through the foods and plants we eat—and these enzymes play a different function. They help us absorb vital nutrients that we need to stay healthy. When you consume a few nutritious foods, such as vegetables, fruit, and herbs, and chow down on too many processed foods, you don’t obtain the digestive enzymes you need. This is problematic, because, without these enzymes, the body spends too much energy digesting what you eat, leaving you exhausted, depleted and, worst of all, inflamed inside. This inflammation plays a role in many chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. 

What Is Leaky Gut Syndrome? 

A lack of digestive enzymes can cause leaky gut syndrome—another unfortunate result of chronic inflammation in the digestive system. There are many culprits that cause leaky gut, including stress, medications, poor food choices or quality, alcohol, cigarettes, and even hormone changes. What does the term “leaky” really mean, you might be wondering? Essentially, a healthy gut absorbs nutrients, but an unhealthy gut “leaks” nutrients, which in turn triggers an inflammatory response in the body. 

6 Steps to Healing Your Gut

  1. My general recommendations for treating leaky gut—and boosting gut health in general—begins with food. I often suggest patients first remove gluten and dairy from their diet, as these proteins can be tough for your body to break down, worsening an already-inflamed digestive lining. Another tip is to cut back on alcohol and sweets, as these also upset your gut. Stick to no more than four drinks each week and keep your refined sugar intake to no higher than 40 grams each day. 
  2. Adding in foods that naturally contain digestive enzymes is a great strategy for improving digestive health and leaky gut. Avocados contain lipase, an enzyme that helps with digestion of fat, while pineapple and papaya are rich in amylase, which breaks down starch. Bananas and kiwi also contain digestive enzymes and ginger acts as a digestive aid as well.
  3. Certain supplements can assist in healing leaky gut, including probiotics, live bacteria, and yeast. I recommend taking a high-quality probiotic supplement to help balance the microbiome (the environment in which these bacteria thrive) and improve digestion and your body’s absorption of nutrients. I suggest looking for a high colony count (above 20 billion CFUs). 
  4. For a probiotic-rich beverage, sip on kombucha! It’s one of my family's favorite drinks—even the kids love it. You can buy kombucha pre-made or make your own at home. Nondairy kefir, bone broth, and fermented vegetables are additional food-based sources of probiotics.
  5. L-glutamine is an amino acid that has shown benefits in healing leaky gut or malabsorption. Adding 1-2 grams of glutamine into your favorite morning smoothie is another trick to improving digestive health.
  6. Lastly, supplementing with digestive enzymes can improve the critical issue of absorption of nutrients from food. Choose an enzyme that has amylase, lipase, and protease. Some digestive enzymes also contain hydrochloric acid or HCL, to further help with digestion of food.

The state of your gut is key to your entire health picture! From digestion to immune function, energy levels and hormone balance—if you take the time to repair, balance and nourish your gut, you have the potential to see an impact on your whole body.