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What you probably didn’t know about the pancreas…and more

The pancreas may be small, but it is a vital part of the body’s digestive system that produces digestive enzymes used in the small intestine and releases insulin/glucagon into the blood stream. [1] Supplemental digestive enzymes are often used because the loss of food enzymes creates a digestive burden for the human body that results in discomfort and indigestion. Supplemental digestive enzymes work with the body’s digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas to enhance the digestive process and may reduce the occurrence of digestive discomfort. Think of supplemental enzymes as the transporters that take the substance to the cells for uptake.

Here’s a great example of how digestive enzyme supplements work in tandem with your pancreas:

Let’s say you decide to buy a bicycle to have as a supplemental means of transportation to work and a couple of days a week you ride this bicycle to work. Since you are using a supplemental form of transportation to get to work, that doesn’t mean that your car stops working, but you will stop putting gas in your car as often because you will be using the car less than you were before. If you were to stop riding your bicycle to work, then you would begin to put gas in the car again for it to run on a continual basis. The same is true in regards to your pancreas.

Here’s a great question regarding the continued use of digestive enzymes:

Q: “I have heard that taking the digestive enzymes for more than 2 months makes the pancreas stop producing them. Is it true?”

A: First, the easy answer:

An individual using supplemental digestive enzymes does not need to fear any permanent affect on his/her pancreas or its ability to produce enzymes. Studies show that during use of digestive supplements, the pancreas produces less of its own digestive enzymes but increases production as needed.

Now, the technical explanation:

Studies indicate that the pancreas produces digestive enzymes based upon a feedback mechanism. If there is a sufficient level of enzymes present in the small intestine, it does not secrete digestive enzymes. However, if the level is deficient, the pancreas produces the additional enzymes necessary for digestion. Therefore, when supplemental enzymes are ingested, the body adjusts its own production of endogenous enzymes. If supplementation is discontinued, the inhibition is relieved, and the endogenous enzyme production increases again to meet the body’s needs. Thus, if a person consumes a large number of digestive enzymes, either through raw food or through supplementation, the body’s system can temporarily inhibit the synthesis of its own digestive enzymes. There is no permanent effect on the body’s own capability of producing enzymes.


 

[1] How does the Pancreas work? (2013, October 24). In U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved November 6, 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0072490/

Friess, et al. “Adaptaion of the human pancreas to inhibition of luminal proteolytic activity.” Gastroenterology, Aug 1998, 115(2):388-96.

Friess, et al. “Influence of high-dose pancreatic enzyme treatment on pancreatic function in healthy volunteers.” Int J Pancreatol, Apr 1998, 23(2):115-23.

Layer, et al. “Feedback regulation of human pancreatic secretion.” May 1990, 98 (5 Pt1):1311-9.

Walkowiak, et al. “Inhibition of endogenous pancreatic enzyme secretion by oral pancreatic enzyme treatment.” Eur J Clin Invest, Jan 2003, 33(1):65-9.