Digestive Enzymes Definition

Digestive Enzymes – specialized protein structures that help break down (hydrolyze) foods in the mouth, stomach, and small intestine to assist in absorbing nutrients from foods.

Gastrointestinal structures produce dozens of digestive enzymes, which they secrete in various digestive juices. Amylase in saliva, for example, breaks down carbohydrates into their sugar components. Gastric juices combine acid and protease (pepsin) to further hydrolyze foods.

Numerous enzymes in the small intestine-such as lactase, cellulase, lipase, maltase—facilitate the chemical changes necessary to convert food particles to nutrient molecules the intestinal mucosa can absorb and transport into the bloodstream. Shortages of enzymes may occur, naturally or due to health conditions, that result in gastrointestinal disorders. A shortage of lactase, for example, causes lactose intolerance.


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