Possible Side Effects of Digestive Enzymes
- Weaker digestion
- Pancreatic enzyme insufficiency
- Blockage of bile ducts
- Blockage of pancreatic ducts
- Digestive distress
- Recurring digestive concern
- Address symptoms, leaving cause to worsen
- Sluggish elimination
- Poor gallbladder function
- Decreased stomach acid production
- Decrease duodenal enzyme production
If you’re taking digestive enzymes, you may have noticed two things: first, you digest better when taking them and second, you 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 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 overcrowded 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 take 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 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 is 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 lymph directly outside the gut are congested and compromised.
The intestinal wall, its trillions of microbes, and associated lymphatics are dependent on a very delicate balance of not being too wet or dry. We have all experienced dry skin after a shower. In the same way 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.
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Why We Really Need Digestive Enzymes
Intestinal irritation from a diet of processed food,7 food pesticides, environmental pollutants, and stress may congest intestinal villi, disturb the delicate balance of 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.
Just before 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 bile 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 digestive breakdown of fats, proteins, and carbs.
Due to congested bile ducts, the small intestine may not receive its delivery of 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 and begin to weaken digestive fire, cause gas and bloat, and affect the ability to digest foods like wheat and dairy.
These factors are likely involved in congestion of bile ducts and pancreatic enzyme ducts that, in turn, reduce 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 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 symptoms of the underlying problem, this time with a dependency on digestive enzymes.
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How We Become Dependent on Digestive Enzymes
- Intestinal villi become congested (you can tell because stools are too dry or too loose).
- Toxins drain from the gut to the liver.
- Bile in the liver becomes congested.
- Bile becomes too thick to flow through bile ducts.
- Thick bile coats pancreatic enzyme ducts.
- Small intestines signal for more bile and enzymes.
- Bile and enzyme ducts end up overcrowded, in digestive gridlock.
- Digestive fire weakens + food intolerances can appear.
- Long-term enzyme dependency ignores potentially serious underlying cause.
Short-term use of digestive enzymes can be okay, but if you find yourself having a hard time getting off of them, consider the alternatives below.
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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 bile flow? My sentiments exactly! Here’s how:
Eat More Cholagogues
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. Cellulose in greens will attach to toxic bile and escort it to the toilet like a nonstop flight! Turmeric has been shown to increase gallbladder contraction by 50%!9
Drink Fenugreek Tea
Fenugreek acts as a lubricant for bile ducts and helps support normal bile flow.
Have cinnamon with every meal. Cinnamon supports healthy blood sugar levels while supporting normal bile flow.
Olive Oil + Lemon Juice
Mix 1-2 tbsp organic olive oil with 1-2 tsp lemon juice. Shake and drink every morning OR night on an empty stomach for one month. This will exercise the liver and gallbladder while supporting healthy bile flow in the bile and pancreatic ducts.
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 flow of bile and pancreatic enzymes.
Consider regular detoxification of the liver and fat cells, which store toxins processed through the liver. Regular cleansing can help one maintain optimal digestion.
For more information on how to reboot your digestion, read my book Eat Wheat.