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Healthy Digestion

Healthy Digestion is Key to Good Health

A healthy digestive system is essential to a healthy body. This should come as no surprise when you consider that our digestive system is responsible for taking everything we eat and drink and breaking it down into substances our body either uses or eliminates. Consequently, any deficit in digestive function – whether due to illness, injury, genetics, or aging – can have a significant impact on our overall health. Several factors can contribute to digestive problems.

Normally, digestion starts before food even enters the body. As soon as an individual sees food, smells food, or even thinks about food, digestive enzymes are released in the saliva in anticipation of the expectant meal. Once the food is eaten and chewed, these enzymes are mixed in, aiding the initial digestion process.

While this is going on, the stomach is at work preparing for the next step. Hydrochloric acid (HCl for short) is a strong, highly corrosive acid that is naturally made in the parietal (puh-rye-eh-tull) cells in the stomach. HCl activates digestive enzymes and helps break down food into simpler components for the body to use. HCl is also known as "gastric acid." When food enters the stomach, HCl activates the release of enzymes, such as pepsin, to break down proteins into smaller pieces. Other enzymes are also activated that help break down carbohydrates and fats. This also stimulates the production and release of enzymes from the pancreas. These enzymes mix with digesting food as it leaves the stomach and moves to the small intestine, further breaking down proteins, carbohydrates, and fats into amino acids, sugars, and smaller fats that are absorbed in the small intestine and distributed to the body.

Stomach ailments are commonplace in Western society. In fact, who among us at one time or another hasn't experienced some form of stomach discomfort, such as heartburn, or acid indigestion? One of the most common problems experienced today is chronic acid reflux, a condition where HCl backflows (or "refluxes") up from the stomach into the esophagus, causing a burning sensation in the chest or bottom of the throat.

It was initially thought that acid reflux was the result of too much HCl production in the stomach. Consequently, people simply took antacid tablets to minimize the symptoms. The problem is so pervasive that more than $20 billion each year is spent on prescription antacid medications, a figure that does not take into account money spent on over-the-counter antacids. The sobering thought is that these medications may actually be making the problem worse, because it is now increasingly believed that acid reflux may not be a result of too much stomach acid – it may actually be a sign of too little.

What Happens When the Body is Deficient in HCl or Digestive Enzymes?

Digestive problems often involve deficits in the production of HCl and/or digestive enzymes. For example, gas, bloating, constipation, and indigestion can all be due to low stomach acid. In addition, other symptoms, such as thinning hair and nails, and even increased food allergies or sensitivities, may be associated with low HCl production. The body's ability to produce sufficient HCl can diminish because of injury to the stomach lining from excessive alcohol consumption, from illness, or even as a result of normal aging. For instance, it is not uncommon for the normal individual's HCl production to start decreasing at age 50. Below-normal HCl production is called "hypochlorhydria," which means "low stomach acid." In cases where the stomach produces no HCl, the term "achlorhydria" or "no stomach acid" is used. In either case, supplementation with HCl is necessary to support proper digestion.*

Another common digestive problem can occur when the pancreas is unable to produce sufficient enzymes to meet the body's demand. This can occur for a variety of reasons, including genetic predisposition, illness, injury/trauma, excessive exercise, aging, toxic exposure, or a combination of these factors. This condition is referred to as exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI), and it can potentially contribute to a number of adverse conditions, such as abdominal pain, maldigestion, steatorrhea (fat in the stool), and weight loss due to nutrient malabsorption. Supplementation with pancreatic enzymes is an effective way to respond to EPI.*

Lactose Intolerance

Another application for enzyme supplementation is management of lactose intolerance.* Lactose intolerance is a condition that arises from the insufficient production of lactase, the digestive enzyme responsible for the breakdown of lactose, the sugar found in milk and other dairy products. Lactose intolerance often does not present as an all-or-nothing type of response. Rather, symptoms are relative to the individual's ability to produce lactase and the amount of lactose in the food consumed. It is estimated that as many as three out of four adults worldwide experience some decrease in lactase activity. The frequency of diminished lactase activity varies greatly, from 5 percent in northern Europe to 90 percent in parts of Asia and Africa; in the United States, its prevalence is believed to be upwards of 15 percent. Typical symptoms associated with lactose intolerance are diarrhea, bloating, and gas, which can be minimized with digestive enzyme supplementation.*

Digestive Support

Animal-based pancreatic enzymes is an accepted form of supplementation for EPI.* In addition, studies report enzymes derived from certain types of fungus can help in the digestion of fats, similar to pig- or cow-derived pancreatic enzymes.* One advantage of fungal-derived enzymes is they can be used in lower amounts than animal-based counterparts. Plant-based enzymes, such as bromelain from pineapple and papain from papaya, aid in the digestion of proteins.* Studies combining pancreatic enzymes and fungal enzymes or bromelain have reported synergistic effects.*

Digestive enzyme supplementation can aid in the breakdown of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates and provide benefit in disorders in which compromised digestion may be involved.*

If you think you might be suffering from a digestive enzyme deficiency, consult with a health-care practitioner to determine whether you can benefit from digestive enzyme supplementation and which form may be right for you.

Thorne Research - Pure Ingredients, Trusted Results

FiberMend: The Evolution of Fiber

Your patients need a good fiber supplement. Are you giving them the best one? Thorne Research is proud to introduce FiberMend, a water-soluble, easily-digested fiber formula to help maintain regularity and balanced GI flora.* Click the above image to learn more.

Thorne Research - Pure Ingredients, Trusted Results

Introducing FloraMend Prime Probiotic™!

FloraMend Prime Probiotic is a proprietary, three-strain blend in a stomach-acid-resistant capsule for effective delivery to the intestinal tract. No refrigeration required! Click above to learn more!

New and Improved MediClear and MediClear Plus

MediClear and MediClear Plus–
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*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.