We all know the importance of proteins as the “building blocks” upon which our body’s tissues are created. Proteins have also been shown to support the nervous system by keeping the mind healthy and alert. But when it comes to digesting these valuable amino acids, there are many factors at play that can alter our stomach’s ability to break them down properly. Our body requires two main ingredients to help properly digest proteins: stomach acid and digestive enzymes. These two ingredients work in tandem: stomach acid “switches on” the enzymes, activating them and allowing the proper breakdown of food.
Digestive enzymes have several specific functions such as keeping gut bacteria out of the bloodstream, maintaining normal microbial populations in the GI tract and regulating blood sugars after eating a lot of starches. The human body produces fewer enzymes as we age, thus food is less frequently broken down properly by activated enzymes before it reaches the small intestine. Aside from the normal aging process, other factors that affect protein digestion are: antacid use, use of antibiotics, overeating, poor sleep habits and increased stress levels. Even in health-conscious and physically active communities there can be difficulty digesting protein even while on a high-protein diet. This is especially true when protein sources are predominantly animal-based. On the contrary, plant-based protein sources are often predigested via fermentation and are already easy for the body to use effectively.
When an overgrowth of microbes makes the stomach pH too high, or alkaline, whole protein molecules are allowed to bypass the stomach and reach the small intestine. Additionally, an alkaline environment allows the growth of bacteria and yeast in the small intestine which can cause symptoms such as gas, cramping, heartburn and irregular bowel movements. Maintaining the appropriate pH promotes health levels of enzyme activity, but how do we help promote healthy pH levels?
That’s where probiotics come in. Probiotics have been shown to kill overgrown bacteria in our digestive tract, calm inflammation and therefore help restore the digestive tract to the proper pH level. Thus, fermented foods, foods fortified with probiotics and probiotic supplementation can all gently bring our body’s inner ecosystem back into a state of balance. Probiotics therefore enhance protein uptake in the body, especially for less bio-available protein sources. Improved absorption of dietary proteins and a diet rich in plant-based protein sources not only reduce our need to consume as much protein, but we can also lessen our carbon footprints along the way.
Body Ecology. How to Digest Protein: Your Health Depends On It. https://bodyecology.com/articles/how-to-digest-protein-your-health-depends-on-it
Chu, Will. 2016. Probiotics Flex Their Muscles To Enhance Protein Efficacy. NutraIngredients. https://www.nutraingredients.com/Article/2016/03/24/Probiotics-flex-their-muscles-to-enhance-protein-efficacy
Share This Article