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If you are taking digestive enzymes, you may have noticed two things: first, you digest better when taking them and second, you begin to realize that you are becoming dependent on them.
You may be thinking, “Am I going to need to take digestive enzymes for the rest of my life?” Contrary to what you might have heard, the answer is no.
After more than 30 years of practice, it still amazes me how many people are taking digestive enzymes. We have been told by an arsenal of pundits that the ability to make enzymes decreases with age, and that we all must take digestive enzymes in order to digest our food properly. The reality is that we make plenty of digestive enzymes, but as we age, the channels they use to reach our digestive tract can become over-crowded and difficult to navigate. (1,2) So instead of throwing in the towel, let’s clean out the ducts and restore normal digestive enzyme and bile flow instead of becoming dependent on digestive enzymes.
I am a firm believer that most of us can have the digestive strength of an 18-year-old, even as we age, without the help of pills or powders.
If you are taking enzymes for digestion, please join me as I share with you some digestive reset insights and strategies.
A few years ago, I was honored to lecture with one of the most brilliant natural medicine doctors of our time, Bernard Jensen. He was in his nineties and, after writing 50 books, developing Iridology and numerous colon cleansing therapies, I was shocked to find out that he was taking 17 digestive enzymes with every meal.
I had so much respect for this man; I just could not believe he was on digestive enzymes, let alone 17 with each meal. Interestingly, he had developed the first bentonite clay intestinal cleanse, which I did when I was 18, and the Colema Board, a slant board enema system.
When I heard he was on so many enzymes, I immediately thought of the hundreds of patients I have seen over the years that I’ve called “cleansing casualties” – folks who have cleansed themselves into having a digestive system that only works if they keep cleansing it.
It became painfully obvious in my practice that you can cleanse out the gut and feel great for a spell, but getting the gut to continue functioning on its own long after such a cleanse was the real test.
I was also struck by the completely opposite approach Ayurveda uses to clean the colon. Rather than irrigating the gut down with water, which can dry it out over time, Ayurveda suggests soaking the gut in herbalized oils that have a soothing and lubricating effect.
I also noticed that Dr. Jensen’s belly was largely distended and bloated – a telltale sign that the villi inside the gut, and the lymph directly outside the gut, were congested and compromised.
The intestinal wall, it’s trillions of microbes, and associated lymphatics are dependent on a very delicate balance of not being too wet or too dry. We have all experienced dry skin after a shower. In the same way that water can dry out the outer skin, overuse of water colonic irrigation may slowly dry out the villi, and cause them to produce excess reactive mucus. As a result, your stools may become sluggish, loose, or both.
Let’s look at out how our gut health is linked to the need of supplemental digestive enzymes.
Why We Really Need Digestive Enzymes
Intestinal irritation from a diet of processed food, (7) food pesticides, environmental pollutants and stress may congest the intestinal villi, disturb the delicate balance the gut microbes and force toxins through a route called the enteric cycle back to the liver for a second chance to detoxify. (5) Over time, toxins can build up and slowly congest the liver, gallbladder, bile and pancreatic enzyme ducts.
A congested liver can cause the bile production to become more viscous and sludge-like. Thick bile can slowly coat the bile ducts and congest the bile and pancreatic enzymes ducts. (6)
Just before the bile ducts (which take bile from the liver and gallbladder to the small intestine) enter the small intestine, the bile duct joins up with the pancreatic duct – this is the case in 91% of people. (5)
When these ducts, which are quite small, become congested, neither bile nor digestive enzymes can efficiently reach their destination in the small intestines where they both buffer (neutralize) stomach acids and support the digestive breakdown of fats, proteins and carbs.
Due to congested bile ducts, the small intestine may not receive its delivery of the bile and enzymes it requested to complete the digestive process. The intestines often send another message to send more bile and more pancreatic enzymes further congesting the ducts. Unfortunately, without addressing the root cause, this new shipment of bile and enzymes can get stuck in digestive gridlock, which encourages more use of digestive enzyme supplementation.
Less bile in the small intestine leads to less fat metabolism. Fewer digestive enzymes in the small intestine leads to less digestion. Over time, these reactions can compound one another and begin to weaken the digestive fire, cause gas and bloat, and affect the ability to digest foods like wheat and dairy.
As we can see, a diet of processed foods, pesticides, environmental toxins, and/or aging does not seem to curtail the production of digestive enzymes. These factors may likely be involved in the congestion of the bile ducts and pancreatic enzyme ducts that, in turn, reduce the flow and delivery of bile and digestive enzymes into the small intestine.
In this scenario, taking a digestive enzyme will likely offer symptomatic relief, but they will never address the real underlying concern. More importantly, ignoring this cause can lead to more serious health concerns down the road. Once again, we find ourselves treating the symptoms of the underlying problem with a dependency on digestive enzymes. Short-term use of these can be OK, but if you find yourself having a hard time getting off of them, consider the following:
Digestive Enzyme Summary
- Congested intestinal villi: stools that are too dry or too loose.
- Toxins drain from the gut to the liver.
- The bile in the liver becomes congested.
- The bile becomes too thick to flow through the bile ducts.
- Thick bile coats the pancreatic enzyme ducts.
- Small intestines signal for more bile and enzymes.
- Bile and enzyme ducts end up over-crowded and in digestive gridlock.
- Digestive fire weakens and food intolerances can appear
- Long-term enzyme dependency ignores the potentially serious underlying cause.
Alternatives to Digestive Enzymes
Now that you understand why we may be lacking in these enzymes for digestion, you may ask, why not just decongest the bile and improve the bile flow?
My sentiments exactly! Here’s how:
Step 1: Eat more cholagogues or bile-movers such as raw beets, celery, apples, artichokes and leafy greens. Greens should make up 2/3 of your plate. The cellulose in greens will attach to the toxic bile and escort it to the toilet like a non-stop flight! Turmeric has been shown to increase gallbladder contraction by 50%! (9)
Step 2: Drink fenugreek tea. It acts as a lubricant for the bile ducts and helps support normal bile flow.
We RecommendThe Phenomenal Benefits of Fenugreek Seeds
Step 3: Have cinnamon with every meal. Cinnamon supports healthy blood sugar levels while supporting normal bile flow.
Step 4: Mix 1-2 tbsp of organic olive oil with 1-2 tsp of lemon juice. Shake and drink every morning OR night on an empty stomach for 1 month. This will exercise the liver and gallbladder, while supporting healthy bile flow in the bile and pancreatic ducts.
Step 5: Drink a big glass of water 15-20 minutes before each meal. This will super-hydrate your stomach, encouraging it to produce more hydrochloric acid and increasing the flow of bile and pancreatic enzymes.
Step 6: Consider regular detoxification of the liver and fat cells, which store toxins that are processed through the liver. Regular cleansing can help one maintain optimal digestion.
Step 7: Consider supplementation to support health bile production and bile pancreatic enzyme flow. Read about Gentle Digest, Beet Cleanse and Liver Repair in my online store.