Chances are that in recent years you’ve heard about digestive enzymes and probiotics. Why all the buzz? What are they, actually, and why are they being touted as so crucial? Researchers are really only just beginning to understand them and their important roles in the body.
Enzymes are catalysts made up of amino acids that enable chemical reactions to occur in the body (such as the breakdown of food, in digestive enzymes). There are different types of enzymes (metabolic and digestive) and, within these types, enzymes are further broken down. For example, digestive enzymes are broken down into the different food types that they help to digest; i.e., protease breaks down proteins, amylase breaks down carbohydrates, and lipase breaks down fats. When not aiding digestion, these enzymes perform other crucial roles; for example, lipase supports hormone production and gallbladder function.
While the pancreas does make some digestive enzymes, they should ideally come from food. Researchers now believe that the body starts out with a supply (or, bank), which is drawn from when the enzymes needed are not available with the food entering the digestive tract. Food consumed by animals in the wild contains the enzymes necessary for the breakdown and digestion of that food. Unfortunately, enzymes are destroyed at temperatures of 118°F or higher, so food that is processed or cooked contains no viable enzymes to help digest it. What happens then? A withdrawal will need to be made from the enzyme bank!
To further complicate things, metabolic enzymes function throughout the body to enable biochemical reactions in the cells (remember the Krebs Cycle in high school biology?). They are responsible for every function in the body – including fighting disease. When enzymes are not available for digestive processes, metabolic enzymes are utilized to aid in processing the food instead of performing the role they are designed for. This is called enzyme robbing. With the increase in our pets’ chronic health issues since the introduction of processed food, many are linking it with the lack of enzymes.
Farther down the digestive tract, we meet the probiotics, which are live microorganisms that live in the intestines. Also called the “good bacteria” or “flora,” they are continuously interacting with each other and with the cells lining the intestinal walls, aiding in the assimilation of nutrients. These organisms are also involved constantly with the immune, endocrine, and central nervous systems. While there are over 500 species of bacteria in the gut, probiotics usually fall into two groups, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. These overpower and crowd out the bad or pathogenic bacteria which may otherwise wreak havoc in the system. Probiotics also stimulate the intestinal immune system and produce some vitamins, as well as short-chain fatty acids, amino acids, and antioxidants. Some increase the production of intestinal anti-inflammatory modulators, which is why they are indicated specifically for conditions such as IBS and IBD.
Probiotics are destroyed by the use of antibiotics, but they are also destroyed by chemicals such as chlorine, and even stress. So, a pet treated with amoxicillin or doxycycline would benefit by a 30-day regimen of probiotics, but many would benefit by having them on a continual basis, since even something as seemingly harmless as drinking tap water may be wiping out your pet’s good intestinal flora.
While digestive enzymes and probiotics are distinctly different and function separately in the body, they play significant roles in the digestion and assimilation of nutrients, helping to keep your dog healthy. If you have any questions regarding how they may benefit your dog or to better understand them, just ask! If I don’t know the answer, I’ll find out for you.